Sunday, April 25, 2010


(And I don't mean of the Michael Jackson variety.)

I finished Eric Van Lustbader's 'Last Snow', a thriller.

EVL is known for his fantasy and thriller series, but also for reviving the Jason Bourne, (of the Bourne identity movies) series on contract from the estate of Ludlum, the creator.

An aside:
Generally literati talk about Plot driven novels, versus character-driven novels.
In the plot driven novel, what happens in the story is of primary importance. The characters seem to be pawns driven around through the novel like chess pieces on a board. In the character-driven novel on the other hand, it seems as if the characters are the masters of their own fate, and the story told unfolds because of the choices they make. I prefer novels that combine the two. The best examples of character driven stories are 'literary fiction'. I've been known to criticize this 'genre' as often the stories are so beautiful and they employ such incredibly powerful imagery, the prose is so lush, but I finish one and say.... so what was the point?

Plot driven stories are quite the opposite. There is a story. But sometimes the plot can be so contrived as to force me to the other side of the 'criterati' and scream at the pages; "That would never happen. Protagonist would never act that way!" (Most genre fiction has conventions. If a story didn't follow some of the conventions of the genre for instance, it wouldn't be labeled, right?) Of all the contemporary genre fiction, Thrillers are far and away the most plot-driven of them all. And this was very evident in Lustbader's novel.

Okay, back to my post.
In short it was a story of Jack McClure, ATF agent, hero, Presidents friend on special assignment where he breaks a 27 year marriage off with his wife, sleeps with an FSB (old soviet KGB) agent, foils high crimes, saves people, has shoot outs, survives arsenic poisoning...okay, get the picture? The political thriller is always an over the top plot-driven romp. It was well plotted, carried the story along and sold millions of copies. It will probably be a movie. But, I really didn't enjoy it and had to resist skimming to the finish. (I try never to do that. Elmore Leonard said his novels move along well because he never writes the parts people skip. So when I am tempted to skim, I ask myself why exactly I have that impulse.)

I think the biggest problem is that the author doesn't have a firm enough grasp of current Russian/Eurasian geopolitics and energy policy. News paper level, but there were too many instances where he tried to make the Russia of today be the Soviet Union of the 80's (the peak of coldwarspynovelthrillerdom). Then there were the instances where an event would happen but it wouldn't impact the rest of the flow of the novel. For instance, main character kills two assassins sitting in the car on the street below his apartment. Main character goes off to bordelo for top level meeting with bad guy. Main character returns to apartment and has dinner with hot widow next door. Okay. So why was the front of his apartment, where presumably there is a car full of dead guys, gone? No crime scene? I don't know, call me crazy, but I would expect such an event to have repercussions. And yes, I know it's a story. And it never really happened. And yes, I know that such a criticism from someone who writes stories about monsters seems a tad ironic. But still, help me suspend my disbelief a little bit longer.


  1. I had read about this book online, and got it from the library. I must have had a bunch of other books at the same time, because I'm pretty sure I never even started it. At least the plot doesn't sound very familiar... I'm thinking I can leave it too, after your review. I too, go crazy when a plot makes no sense whatsoever, or when a twist defies credulity (such as someone not using their cellphone to call for help, or something). As a scientist, I think you'd enjoy "Ovary Wars" by Mike Hogan. He creates a very original idea for terrorism: unknowing sterilization of American women by a foreign power. That prevents millions of births a year which leads to destruction of the US economy. There's crimes (drugs, baby selling, selling of fertility lists), the FBI, ruthless types being ruthless. Quite enjoyable -- and I loved the premise.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Liz.
    It looks as if Mike is a radiologist at Marshall, so I'd suspect he gets the biology correct. My library doesn't have it...I might have to get it the old fashioned way.

  3. Harumph -- I wrote you a nice response but it disappeared. Just going to say: hate when the library doesn't have what you want as I do love to put my tax dollars to good use. This morning I managed to snag a just-released book off our "hot reads" shelf, which is for new and very popular books with long reserve lists; there's one title that is for those who wander in and get lucky becasue it's on the shelf. First come, first-served and all that. I was going to buy it, but now I don't have to.

    As for "The Ovary Wars," the concept is so intriguing -- it could be a new form of warfare.