Thursday, 10 September 2009

“Rules of Vengeance”, Christopher Reich

Over the past 10 years or so Christopher Reich has made the progression from an author of somewhat erudite fiction (such as “Numbered Account” or “The Runner”) to the rather more populist and fantastic terrain of “The Patriot's Club”. As a frequent reader of his work I was surprised that I managed to miss the release of “Rules of Deception”, the first of the Jonathan Ransom books, and a chance purchase in Gatwick's WH Smith of “Rules of Vengeance” was all that alerted me to the existence of the predecessor and the “Rules” series.

“Rules of Vengeance” stands on its own and not having read its predecessor did not overly hurt, however there are sufficient references back to the previous book that one suspects a lot of the tension would be stripped out of it through knowledge of what takes place in book 2.

Undeniably fast paced and engaging “Rules of Vengeance” is a fine example of the chase thriller genre, taking its nod from classics such as “The 39 Steps” or “North by Northwest” with elements such as mistaken identity and a mysterious dynamic femme fatale. The way it overlays layer upon layer of action keeps up the relentless velocity of the story, and this in many ways serves to paper over the cracks that undeniably exist in the plot. The conspiracy at the heart of the novel is perhaps a touch over complex and stretches credibility when really thought about.

What Reich has in mind for core protagonist Ransom is somewhat enigmatic. Is he a subtle pawn of Connor, ensuring the core plot is foiled – but only just – to further high espionage aims? If so then why is so much left to chance and the whim of some of Connor's disillusioned agents? In terms of how the plot unfolds some of the core events, such as the opening murder of Robert Russell, ultimately pose questions as to why they had to take place in furthering the central story – or whether they were simply well executed set pieces that were inserted to keep the attention of the reader.

The character of Emma – another superhero like female character in the vein of Nikita, Stephanie Patrick, or Lisbeth Salander is also hard to completely unpick. Multiple levels of complexity in her background and motivations are revealed which causes the reader's sympathy towards her to swing radically over the course of the book, and ultimately one is left wondering how such a creation came to pass.

Interestingly, a degree of kudos must go to British political consultancy Oxford Analytica for managing to get quite such a significant plug in the course of the book. While not mentioned in the credits, as a real-world organisation this must constitute a highly successful piece of product placement.

As an erudite spy thriller there are simply too many holes in “Rules of Vengeance” for it to be truly satisfactory. It does however function superbly as a fast moving thriller. One cannot help however thinking that a touch more effort put into polishing the manuscript and ensuring loose ends were tied up and that a clearer narrative pathway to the highly surprising conclusion were provided. This aside, it's still a competent work that happily fulfils the needs of a relatively undemanding holiday read.

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