Author: Mike Bond
Publisher: Mandevilla Press
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!
Frankly, this novel is a mess. It begins not on page one, but on page nineteen, the first eighteen pages being filled mostly with advertising. The actual novel itself is 365 pages long, one for every day of the year and judged by how much it's padded with extraneous detail, aimless rambling and flashbacks, it could probably be at least a hundred pages lighter and healthier for it.
It never hurts to lose some excess weight! Whether this is how the print book will look or whether this padded bra of commercial material up front is confined to the ARC version, I don't know. I wish that publishers and writers would have more respect for trees though.
The author has actually been a journalist in Beirut, so he knows the deal there, but that doesn't mean he can write an engrossing fictional story about it. This one was too splintered and fractured to be coherent. The book was really hard to get going on, because it was bouncing around all over the place, jumping from one set of characters to another, from one scenario to the next so quickly that I couldn't get comfortable with the characters, nor was I left with a feeling that I was going anywhere.
The author gets the lyrics wrong to the Chicago song If You leave me Now. It's not "If you leave me now, you'll take away the very best part of me", it's "If you leave me now, you'll take away the biggest part of me" which, when you think about it, sounds like impotence, doesn't it? I don't know if that's the way Peter Cetera intended it when he wrote it, but it is a beautifully embedded double meaning - if you get the lyric right! I guess the dope-smoking sabotaged Neill's brain cells and prevented them from nailing down the lyrics....
So Neill is the main character. He's an American journalist, but he's been recruited by MI6 (the British equivalent of the CIA) to go (as a journalist) to Beirut, his mission is to try to contact a terrorist named (highly originally) Mohammed, who is linked to Hezbollah. Mohammed can apparently stop the slaughter, although how that works is anyone's guess. Mohammed is also evidently married to an ex of Neill's, named Layla (another original name).
To try and add a little zest to the recipe, the author has also thrown in André, who is a commando in the French armed forces, and who wants to murder Mohammed to avenge the death of his brother, who died in the Beirut Marine barracks bombing in 1983. Additionally, there's a female terrorist named Rosa (the choice of names in this novel frankly sucks) who is as deadly as she's dedicated. No doubt both of these characters will conspire to thwart Neill's aim.
While the timing is obviously 1983 or later, the actual dating of the events in the novel isn't clear - at least not in the portion I read. I noted that one reviewer considered it contemporary, but I don't see how it can be given that it appears to follow hot on the tail of events which took place a generation ago.
The pacing is excruciatingly slow and constantly - I mean constantly - interrupted with flashbacks which completely destroyed the story, the atmosphere and any sense of immediacy for me. It takes forever to actually get to any real and current events (current within the story's framework, that is), and those are irritatingly fragmented.
Instead of getting to the action, the story wallows endlessly (and mindlessly) in flashbacks, dalliances and memories, multiplied by two (one set for Neill, the other for André). Rosa seems to be the only one who is actually getting anything done! No wonder terrorist keep on blind-siding us! For example, Neill spends an inordinate amount of time in Holland doing nothing more than sitting around and smoking dope. André appears to be wandering aimlessly around Paris.
If you like gory detail, there's plenty to be had here. For me, describing how a bullet goes through a supine victim's head and then bounces back off the cement floor and returns through that same head is, if you'll forgive the pun, overkill. I already got that Rosa was coldly obsessed. I don't need to have her putting one bullet after another into her victim from several different angles and read about how he's still spastically moving even then. This added nothing to the story or to her character portrait, so I don't see the value other than gratuitous violence for the sake of it.
In the end I could not get past the first third of this novel. It really was not for me. It was far too jumbled and disjointed, which spoiled the story and made me quickly lose interest. I can't recommend this. This is the second Mike Bond novel I've reviewed. The first was Tibetan Cross and I didn't like that one either, so I guess I'm done with this author, too.