Deep in the heart of genre fiction – your classic airport thriller.
Our heroes tend to merge a bit: they’ve all got military and/or CIA backgrounds and have the same sort of skills and personalities. The opening was almost as good as the finish was bad. The way Bagley started with his loner nearing burnout (but honest and ultimately resourceful) private detective was enjoyable, as was the merging with a wider conspiracy and the central hero. Moreover Africa is a usable exotic location for the increasingly silly adventures. But the book is a gentle and finally a steep slide from readable to tosh. Bagley has painted himself in a half a dozen James Bond characters who in the last couple of chapters inexplicably run into mad panic at meeting a couple of bad guys. The climax couldn’t be any more stupid: with the resources of the whole nation at their beck and call, the heroes inexplicably charge alone in the most disorganised of attacks on a compound they could have quietly surrounded with a small army if they had’ve made a phone call once the game was up. C’mon, my standards aren’t too high for this sort of thing, but surely Bagley could go to the trouble of constructing a context where heroics are vaguely necessary. Even more irritating with characters frequently described as hugely intelligent. The climax is lazy – we have it because we must, but the threat is never really even spelt out: what, the South Africans had stored a few weapons underground they might have intended to use in a year or two? It wasn’t some sort of doomsday device that had to be disconnected as the clock was ticking down. Why the absurd rush?
So, yeah, after a reasonable start where we were growing to like Ben Hardin for what he said and how he acted, we descended into being told to like and respect Max Stafford and Chip and Curtis and Nair etc. because they’re all such sharp and cool operators – without them doing anything much sharp or cool or likable.
Interesting that there’s not a whiff of sex in this attempted crowd pleaser – I thought early eighties would have been catering for that, but maybe not. There’s barely even flirting, and the early token female that I assumed would be a love interest just fades away – maybe for a later appearance in the series?