THE GAME ENDS FOR BALDACCI’S LATEST AFTER THE FIRST CHAPTER

Standard

End Game Cvr UKMetro’s , underground tube and train networks are an excellent way of servicing vast cities, such as New York, London ,Paris and Moscow . To the uninitiated they can be complicated and confusing.  Even myself, whilst quite used to the London tube, has to stop every now and then, disrupting the torrent of bodies flowing through this vast underground network, to get my bearings. Then on other occasions, I’ll mutter under my breathe at disorientated tourists as they do likewise. This brings me on to this month’s second book, End Game by David Baldacci, published by MacMillan www.macmillan.com in October 2017.

What’s confusing about  this book is that the blurb on the book and the cover images on the front bear no resemblance to the story inside. Ok, for one chapter they do, the first one. After that it’s a totally different story.

According to the blurb on the back, Will Robie an assassin for US Government has 24 hours to save London from a  threat by terrorists to attack the underground, with the United States their next target. While the front cover image shows male and female silhouettes walking along a London underground platform.

What actually happens, is that Robie kills all the terrorists single-handedly in a house in central London and saves the lives of 17 million Londoners all within the first fifteen pages!!! For the other three hundred and ninety one, he and his fellow agent Jessica Reel (who never goes near London), mooch about the wilds of Colorado looking for their boss “BlueMan”, who has gone missing while on vacation in his home town. Managing to cross swords with a Neo-Nazi group and in Robie’s case get romantically involved with the local sheriff in the process, all while trying to sort out their own complicated romantic history.

This isn’t the first David Baldacci novel I’ve read, the other was Split Second from his King and Maxwell series. Again like this book it was pacey and full of action but at least the blurb on the back and the front cover had some connection with the whole story inside.

David Baldacci

David Baldacci

The story in the remaining three hundred plus pages of End Game is interesting if not slightly weakened by the constant distraction of the front cover, which keeps making the reader wonder where the connection to the threat to London and the sixteen terrorists Robie had dispatched in the first part of the book, is going to emerge. It doesn’t, it’s as if Baldacci had an idea for a book, but realised it was just a short story and decided to weld another half decent story onto the end of it. If that’s the case, his editor should be demoted to editing road signs or billboards.

American Author Baldacci (www.davidbaldacci.com) has written nearly forty books which have sold more 130 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 45 languages. A good few have been adapted for film and television. He started writing from a young age, when his mother gave him a lined copy book to keep him quiet. His first book, “Absolute Power,” was published in 1996.  He lives in Virginia, where he and his wife also run their Wish You Well Foundation,a non-profit organization, which supportsEnd Game Cvr US literacy efforts across the country.

While researching this review, I saw on David’s website that the American version of the book has a different cover, which is common. At least it shows a male and female silhouette running through a Coloarado-esque landscape. With so many dedicated fans, I don’t see why David or the editors and marketing teams at Macmillan deemed it ok to take the UK / Irish readers for fools. So, if you are looking for a half decent read, which can be slightly distracting if you are reading a non-American copy, then go and get a copy. Otherwise, any of Baldacci’s other books are a better bet.

FAULKS LEAVES US STRANDED, WITH A WEEK IN DECEMBER.

Standard

A week in DecmbrIf you’re familiar with Ralph McTell then you’ll know in 1969 he took us by the hand and led us through the streets of London. After that, others such as Cliff Richard, Sinead O’Connor and Roger Whittaker, have also led us through the fabled streets of the English capital, while covering the song.

In 2006 Maeve Binchy took us under London’s fog bound streets in Victoria Line, Central Line. Re-titled London Transports for our unimaginative yankee cousins, who couldn’t get their heads around the simple title of a book set on the London train network. Americans obviously don’t read the blurb on the back of books! Then in 2010, the best selling author Sebastian Faulks, decided we needed to spend ‘A Week in December’ on the London underground.

This is the novel my book group was presented with for March, as the self explanatory title states this book has us spending the third week in December following the lives of seven characters (ahem), whose lives are all connected by the central line on the London underground.  There’s John Veals, a hedge fund manager trying to make a quick killing on the markets, while Vic line Cent Linedestroying the world economy in the process; Tadeusz “Spike” Borowski, an eastern european professional footballer finding his feet in the premiership; Gabriel Northwood, a young barrister trying to get over the memories of an old flame; Hassan Al Rashid, a student being radicalised by an Islamist faction; Roger Tranter, a book reviewer hoping to win a major literary prize. Also John Veal’s son Finbar, a drug and reality TV addicted school boy and finally the character that links them together, Jenni Fortune, a train driver on the central line getting over a suicide involving her train and who worries about her out of work brother.

Faulks may have been trying to copy the success of Binchy’s book. What he ended up doing was producing a rather messy attempt. How?  Well, Binchy’s book, like her previous compilation of short stories, ‘The Lilac Bus’, set on a rural bus route in Ireland, had each of the characters stories nicely rounded into a chapter each or as in the case of ‘Central Line, Victoria Line’, set around a particular stop on the tube line. Faulks has his stories clumsily chopped and intermingled all over the place  as the days progress so that just as you get into one story it jumps to another and you have to remember what’s happening.

The blurb on the back, said the book follows seven characters. Well each of these actually have four or five others who interact regularly and distract from the story and get large chunks of  chapters dedicated to them, a couple prime examples are Sophie Topping and her husband Lance, a recently elected local MP and rising political star. Their sole aim seems to be hosting a dinner party at the end of the week at which four of the characters will attend along with a gaggle of others, who just seem to exist as page fillers.

Then there’s the uneven allocation of space, with lots of space given over to certain characters and not enough to others. Veal’s story for example, takes up almost half the book and if Faulks had put his mind to it, he could have got a full novel out of this character. While Borowski the soccer play gets at most ten pages of story all the way through the book, his story, like that of Veal’s son Finbar, rather limps through the book with no real conclusion. The same goes for that of Hassan, the English born Muslim kid being radicalised. Here again, is another ideal opportunity to write a rather enthralling and taut full length thriller. But as the narrative leads  up to the bombing of a fictional London hospital, (Which is being targeted  for no apparent reason, other than it is full of white people), where a number of the other characters have  found themselves in the course of every day life, it whimpers out to nothing when Hassan gets second thoughts.

The nicest story of the whole book is that of the blossoming love affair between Jenni Fortune and Gabriel Northwood. Gabriel is representing Transport For London, the company who run the underground. In a case brought by the suicide victim’s family. we are led nicely through their relationship over the course of the seven days which, in anyone’s book is a whirlwind romance to say the least, then just as you get that funny warm feeling for the two characters and happy that they are finding true love… the book ends, leaving the reader hanging. What happens next? Do they live happily ever after? This again is a theme through the book, with most of the stories, they stop dead; with no epilogue as to what happens after midnight on the Saturday when the dinner party ends… We never know whether Veal’s deal goes through…

This is what keeps the reader turning the pages, the expectancy of what might happen. One classic technique used by Faulks is that of a mysterious cyclist dressed in black with no lights on their bike who speeds along the pavement forcing each of the characters to jump out of his or her way. But again, this individual appears to have no role in the book except to nearly run down all the characters.

BikeSilhouette1

These characters are here to be lampooned and it came out at the discussion in the book group that the sole aim of this book was for Faulks to “have a go” at these types of people. He seemingly hates wealthy financial types who play risky games with our money to line their own nests; book critics (Oh well, I’ll be in the next book, represented as an online faceless blogger!) and  cyclists who speed around pavements with no lights on.

So all in all, you’re getting the picture that I was not impressed by A Week in December. This isn’t the first time I’ve read a Sebastian Faulks book. I read his 2008 James bond novel Devil May Care, commissioned by the Ian Fleming Foundation to commemorate the writer’s 100th birthday.  I was rather disappointed, after reading Fleming’s books and the follow-on series by John Gardner. Faulks’ attempt was a lack lustre affair with no memorable storyline and very little in the way of gadgets or excitement, which Fleming and Gardner had delivered on and which the film going public had grown up with over on the past 25 years.

Seb faulksSo I’m not surprised by how this Faulks book turned out. Take my advice-‘mind the gaps’ in the story-telling and miss this stop to avoid the over crowded platform or if you haven’t done so already, change here for Binchy’s Victoria Line, Central Line.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)