Tuesday, 14 April 2015

"The Assassin", Clive Cussler and Justin Scott

There's a certain serendipity to this. A couple of weeks ago, sitting at Gatwick waiting to board a flight east to Tbilisi, I was struck by the sort of mild panic that the onset of the Kindle has hugely eased. Fretting that none of the packed books or downloaded JSTOR articles would quite be enough to keep me entertained for the week, a quick ferret yielded a pair of Clive Cussler books, guilty pleasures perhaps, but reassuring knowing that whatever else, I was unlikely to be stuck abroad with nothing entertaining to read.

As luck would have it, both Cusslers went unread on the road, Kate Mosse's "Citadel" providing all the leisure reading needed, and it was only once returned, driven by the exigencies of crowded trains, that attention moved to Cussler and Scott's "The Assassin". As I've blogged before, I've got history with both, the two, amongst others, providing much of the escapism my teenage self sought. I've grown up, and they still know their market. The Isaac Bell series, of which this is the 8th, are straightforwardly written and don't contain too much in the way of surprises. Part of me wants them to be richer and deeper novels, but the realist in me is pleased that this combination of easy access, good storytelling, and engaging surroundings exists, and serves in a small part to locate the early 20th century in the minds of readers and may encourage them to think more widely about the world of this period.

Back to serendipity though. "The Assassin" deals with Standard Oil and the personality of Nelson Rockefeller, and the middle section of the book takes place in the Caucasus, then and now a booming oil rich region. Baku in the throes of the 1905 revolution provides a dramatic backdrop to one of the significant set pieces, and leads Bell, Rockefeller, and sundry other protagonists struggling to escape west. A wry smile was thus evoked when around page 270 they reach Tbilisi. Often the appearance of exotic or obscure parts of the world set in the past offer scope for an author to indulge in creative licence, so there was a huge level of pleasure on my part to be able to recognise the view of old and new Tbilisi from Mtatsminda park and the funicular railway providing a route down to the city.

The view of Tbilisi seen by Bell from Mtatsminda, 110 years on.
I shouldn't have been surprised. One of the hallmarks of Justin Scott's work has always been a keen attention to historical detail, but it's something oft overlooked. It doesn't cost the author much to get it right, and it's so pleasing to see it as well executed as it is here.

An effective sense of place aside, "The Assassin" romps along in an effective way. It's not high literature, and when read carefully there's not much that will really surprise, but most importantly it entertains and mainly edifies. There's a time and a place for the erudite and thought provoking, but so is there time for this. Maybe it didn't need to save my reading life when in parts foreign, but it made the commute through South London a good deal more pleasurable.

As I've said before, more of the same please.

No comments:

Post a Comment