Mission of Honor (Op-Center #9)

0425186709.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Mission of Honor by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Out of the morning sun, militiamen kidnap a Catholic priest and suddenly the government of Botswana is wondering what is going on while the Vatican turns to their secret allies as well as extends a feeling to Op-Center. Mission of Honor is the ninth book of the Op-Center by Jeff Rovin finds the crisis management agency negotiating between the political fallout from Kashmir and figuring out how to react to events in the stable southern African nation that everyone quickly realizes that Europeans are pulling the strings.

Leon Seronga leads his Brush Vipers militiamen on a raid of Catholic church and kidnaps Father Bradbury to take to Vodun priest Dhamballa. The travel to the Vodun-Brush Viper hideout and treatment makes Bradbury call his missionary deacons and tells them to leave Botswana, the first step of Dhamballa’s desire to his homeland returned to the Vodun gods not the Catholic one. Bob Herbert gets a call from Edgar Kline, an old South African colleague who now works for Vatican Office of Security, wanting Op-Center’s help to find their missing priest though he’s on his way to the U.S. to ask an American bishop to temporarily replace Bradbury until his return. Meanwhile Paul Hood informs General Mike Rodgers that Striker would not be reconstituted but wants to create a Black-Ops HUMINT unit lead by Rodgers who is enthusiast about creating it and quickly gets things moving on the Botswana front with help from Herbert. Hood then learns from the head of Japanese intelligence that some European businessmen with ties to Botswana doing things in China, which sends Op-Center looking at outside influences behind the kidnapping. Seronga and a young recruit kill two deacons then travel with two Spanish soldiers, sent to support the Vatican, to the airport to meet the American bishop to kidnap him only to see him assassinated and the gunman shot by an airplane pilot who takes off. The two Brush Vipers exit the airport but are followed by Maria Corneja the first Op-Center undercover agent in the country. Eventually Maria joins the two to find a peaceful end to the situation knowing they didn’t kill the bishop, but someone wants the government and the world to blame them. Two more agents, Aideen Marley and David Battat, join up with the Brush Vipers and Maria then convince a disappointed Dhamballa to give them Bradbury and to come along with them as well while the Brush Vipers disperse before the Botswana military arrives. Though the situation in the Botswana is been cooled down, Hood and the rest of Op-Center want to get at those outside the country that started the situation.

This is the best book of the series since the fifth installment, Balance of Power, with very good character development and the switch from a military resolution to HUMINT Black-Ops resolution being the biggest reasons why. The transition of the workings of Op-Center also marks the transition of the series to hopefully a better overall product especially with the reintroductions of characters Marley, Battat, and Corneja from past books to a story threads connecting to the next book in the series. However, the book isn’t perfect with the biggest thing was the religious aspect not because that it was religious but because it was all incorrect. Vodun is a West African religion and one of the influences (along with Catholicism) in West Indian Voodoo, however Botswana is in southern Africa and has no indigenous connection with Vodun. And Botswana is a majority Protestant Christian nation (66%) with Catholicism less than 10%, making the placing of this story in the nation weird on numerous counts.

Mission of Honor might be the best book of the series with Jeff Rovin changing the titular agency’s focus from having a military solution to a black-ops approach with a reintroduction of characters from previous installments as field agents. While not perfect, this book has stuck with me for 17 years with being memorable from the series and is still very good.

Op-Center

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Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond #7)

51vv0zaruil._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Diamonds Are Forever
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The sixth and final official appearance of the man who made the character famous came after his replacement left the franchise resulting in the studio demanding Sean Connery’s return for Diamonds Are Forever. The film based on the fourth Ian Fleming novel and the seventh in the overall film franchise was a good adaptation but it’s uneven pacing and poor plotting created unfortunate swansong for the original James Bond.

After a worldwide pursuit, James Bond finds Ernst Stavro Blofeld at a facility were “look-alikes” were being surgically created killing a test subject and the “real” Blofeld in superheated mud. Once his revenge mission is complete, M assigns Bond to investigate a diamond smuggling ring beginning in South Africa and going through Amsterdam to an unknown destination. As Bond takes the place of smuggler Peter Franks, assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are shown meeting and killing successive handlers of the diamonds including the last in Amsterdam. Bond-as-Franks meets Tiffany Case who’ll give him the diamonds and the destination when the real Franks shows up forcing Bond to kill him and switching IDs with him. Case and he then fly to Los Angeles with the diamonds in the real Franks’ corpse with Wint & Kidd also on the plane, but on arrival Bond and the CIA switch the diamonds to fakes before the mob-owned funeral home employees pick up the casket and travel with Bond to Las Vegas. Franks’ body is cremated to secure the diamonds and Bond is paid only to be attacked by Wint & Kidd but saved by the mob runner because they found out the diamonds were fake. The mob runner is a comedian at The Whyte House, owned by the young eccentric Willard Whyte, but Bond gets there after Wint & Kidd who were only told the diamonds were fake after doing the job. Going to his room, Bond’s pick up for the night is thrown out the window by the mob and he’s left alone with Tiffany for the night. Bond sends Tiffany to Circus Circus to retrieve the diamonds, but she escapes her CIA tail. However, Bond is waiting for her along with the corpse of his pick up the night before who was mistaken for Tiffany by Wint & Kidd. Tiffany and Bond go to the next drop off and follow the diamonds to just outside the Whyte House and then to a Whyte science research facility that Bond gets into and then races out of with security on his tail. After escaping security, Bond and Tiffany escape a six-vehicle car chase with the sheriffs’ department before Bond infiltrates the penthouse of The Whyte House to find Blofeld and one of his doubles. Bond kills the double but is knocked out and given over to Wint & Kidd who dispose him in a sewer pile that is buried by a construction crew. Bond disables the wielding machine and gets out of the sewer piles by a manhole opened by technicians there to repair it then tricks Blofeld in revealing where Whyte is being held and after fighting his “jailers” gets the eccentric billionaire released. Whyte helps Bond and CIA figure out that Blofeld has created a laser satellite weapon to blackmail the superpowers—white lying to the pacifist scientist who helped him—as well as the location Blofeld is controlling the satellite, an oil rig off Baja. Bond drops in on the rig and his shown around by Blofeld, but his attempt to switch computer tapes fails. Yet Bond had signaled the U.S. Army to attack the rig and in the chaos traps Blofeld in his escape sub then crashed it into the control room to blow up the rig and kill the satellite. Bond and Tiffany decide to cruise back to London, but Wint & Kidd attempt to kill them only to be finished off by Bond.

Coming in at an even two hours, Diamonds Are Forever was for the first three-quarters of it’s length a quick paced journey and storytelling that was very engaging but then suddenly slowed down in the final half-hour to a crawl. This change of pace allowed the flaws of the story to really come to life and frankly revealed that while Connery was being professional, he was just doing this last appearance for the paycheck. Jill St. John’s performance as Tiffany Case was fine, but frankly her role in the film did not make sense as she went from being smart to sexy to stupid back to sexy to something that is all three and shows the overall problems with the film’s story. Charles Gray’s portrayal of Blofeld was not as good as Savalas’ but given the material he had it was still better than Pleasence’s portrayal two films before. The highlight of the film might have been Bruce Glover and Putter Smith’s Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, witty assassins who killed in intriguing ways while being subtly portrayed as gay lovers though why they were killing the smugglers wasn’t really given explanation. While many people dislike the duo, yet to me they make the film somewhat memorable. Finally, Jimmy Dean’s portrayal of the pseudo-Howard Hughes was a nice for what little time he was on the screen.

Diamonds Are Forever was an end of an era installment of the franchise, but one that limped to it’s finished. Connery was professional in his swansong, but one feels he was calling it in. Add to that the overall plot and the suddenly pacing change at the end of the film, the overall product created was probably the worst of the franchise to date. However, if you have two hours to spare it’s an okay spy film to take up the time.

James Bond

Line of Control (Op-Center #8)

b001ql5mdc.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Line of Control by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The most dangerous border on the planet is days, if not hours, away from potentially exploding in a nuclear fireball but suddenly finding itself in the middle of the crisis is Op-Center’s own Striker team. Line of Control is the eighth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin picks up right where the last book left off as Paul Hood deals with government spending cuts, Mike Rodgers and the Strikers are headed to India to help find Pakistani missile silos only to find itself in the middle of a secret Indian conspiracy to use Kashmiri terrorists to setup a preemptive nuclear strike.

Traitorous NSA agent Ron Friday is on hand in Srinagar, India when a terrorist attack destroys a police station, a Hindu temple, and a bus of Hindu pilgrims. Friday realizes something isn’t right especially when the regular investigating agency is left out of the loop. The cell of Kashmiri terrorists responsible for bombing of the police station know they’ve been set-up and take the young Indian woman they had been holding as a hostage with them towards Pakistan to prove they are innocent of escalating this into a religious war. Op-Center suddenly finds its Striker team heading into dangerous situation especially once the new NSA chief gets in touch while on the phone with Friday who reports what he witnessed and the apparent sidelining of the usual Indian investigative team. Satellite coverage shows the usurping Indian agency attempting to the capture the terrorists only to fail thanks to the Kashmiri terrorists finding the cellphone on their hostage, who happens to be a civilian operative. Like Friday, the Op-Center team realizes this is a plan to set up a preemptive nuclear strike by elements in the Indian government and decide to have Striker help the terrorists get their hostage to Pakistan to tell her story. However, the Indians and Friday have other ideas while the one wants their plan to go off without a hitch the other is serving his own interests. Unfortunately for Op-Center, all but three members of their Striker team are killed while parachuting into the Himalayas by Indian groundfire but Rodgers is one of the survivors and kills up with Friday, the Indian young woman, and one of the terrorists then leads them to a secret Pakistani missile silo on the titular Line of Control where they use a communications link to get the young woman’s story out to the world thus preventing a nuclear exchange. Rodgers, the young woman, and the Indians who were after them escape the Pakistani facility before it explodes, but the self-serving Friday dies. The resulting international praise for Op-Center is nothing compared to the domestic as Striker is disbanded and it will be severely downsized.

Published in 2001 before the 9/11 attacks, Line of Control focused on what at the time was considered—and probably still is—the greatest risk of a nuclear confrontation in the world. Like most of the books in the series Rovin has written a few implausible elements in the book—namely the new NSA chief not reprimanding Friday for some of the things he said to Bob Herbert or the young Indian civilian operative’s many personality changes throughout the book—however unlike the last book they were more forgivable. Yet from the outset the Paul Hood point-of-views essentially gave away the fact that the series would be taking a major shift with a change in how Op-Center would function in the future thus when the Striker team was butchered it was the writing on the wall that Op-Center would have a paramilitary wing anymore and sets up how Rovin will make the agency unique compared to the CIA, NSA, and others. Given all that, the action sequences throughout were well written and plotting was well down making a for an overall nice read.

Line of Control is a watershed moment in the Op-Center series as some of the elements that made the agency unique came to an end and Rovin decided to go into a new direction with the series. Overall the book is good action piece and overall better narrative than the previous installment as well as making this one the high quality books of the series.

Op-Center

Divide and Conquer (Op-Center #7)

0425174808.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Divide and Conquer by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Conspiracies abound in Washington and Azerbaijan as powerful political figures in the former hope events in the latter will change the nation and the world. Divide and Conquer is the seventh book of the Op-Center series written, and acknowledged, by Jeff Rovin as the newly returned Op-Center Director Paul Hood who is dealing with the aftermath of his daughter’s ordeal and the dissolution of marriage finds himself attempting to stop events political and diplomatic from spiraling out of control.

In Baku, Azerbaijan a CIA operative is knocked unconscious by the terrorist The Harpooner who injects the operative with a virus before joining his team of Iranians to set up and destroy an Iranian oil rig so as to blame the Azerbaijani. The CIA operative goes to the U.S. Embassy and meets the local CIA officer and officer from Moscow when he falls sick resulting in his two colleagues are assassinated by a rogue NSA agent and one of The Harpooner’s contacts. Meanwhile Paul Hood meets with the First Lady about President Lawrence who seems to not be himself, but a clue from the night before results in Op-Center finding something going on with the head of the NSA especially since he was secretly meeting with the Iranian U.N. mission. Hood then learns about The Harpooner in Baku and calls his Russian counterpart to work to capture the terrorist, but the murder of the two CIA agents result in the Russian Op-Center getting an undercover agent to save the sick CIA operative who is recovering. The two agents then track down The Harpooner and kill him. Just then Hood and his team have found evidence that the Vice President and the Chief of Staff along with the NSA head have been giving the President false information so as to use the crisis in Caspian to force him to resign. With the First Lady, Hood forces his way into the Situation Room and confront the conspirators though to a stalemate until the NSA head gets a call from a secure phone in The Harpooner’s possession from the recovering CIA operative. Though the Vice President attempts keep his office, Lawrence forces him to resign along with his two co-conspirators.

Released in 2000, Divide and Conquer was a product of its time with an insider conspiracy against a sitting U.S. President. The background of the Lawrence administration, which is retconned from Op-Center, and events in Washington were the major downfall of this book. First Rovin apparently forgets the 22nd Amendment on term limits, Lawrence has won 3 of the 4 elections he was in, and fails to set up Hood connection with the First Lady in the previous six books. Second, how the conspirators misinform the President is unlikely to happen since in real life they wouldn’t be able to do it and at no time were the Secretaries of State and Defense around especially in the Situation Room. Add on top of this is the poor editing throughout the book especially in regards to the capitalization of titles, i.e. Vice president, and Paul Hood giving The Harpooner’s actual name when no intelligence agency in the world actually knows it. However, I will give Rovin credit for the well written events and characters in and around Baku as well as the Russian Op-Center which are the most believable in the book along with subtle setup for the next book in the series.

Divide and Conquer is a mishmash of good and really bad but unlike previous books there is no intriguing plot for Jeff Rovin to unperformed in writing. If anything of the two arcs in the book’s plot, it’s the one that doesn’t include the titular institution and main character that is better written in story and characters. Although this is a different issue than previous books, it keeps up the generally underwhelming quality of this series.

Op-Center

State of Siege (Op-Center #6)

0425168220-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_State of Siege by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After living through the hypocrisy of being a part of a United Nations security force, a band of mercenaries decide to strike at the organization itself and unknowingly take resigning Op-Center director Paul Hood’s daughter hostage. State of Siege, is the sixth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin, ghosting for the titular Tom Clancy, finds Paul Hood in the middle of a hostage situation as his daughter is being held in the Security Council after cleaning out his desk and hoping to rebuild his family that is hanging by a thread and however Hood reacts he risks destroying it.

A team of five former UN soldiers, who served in Cambodia, rob an armored car in Paris to finance buying weapons from an arm’s dealer in New York to strike at the United Nations for a $250 million payday after taking room full of hostages. Among the hostages are diplomats, young violinists including Harleigh Hood, and two undercover Cambodian hitmen looking to take their revenge against the terrorist group’s leader. The situation is both personal and professional for Paul Hood, who is torn to do something to save his daughter and being with his wife to support. The newly appointed Secretary-General is a negotiator who wants to solve the problem as peacefully as possible, but events quickly get out of her control leading to a final solution to the siege that both pleases and displeases many.

Released in 1999, State of Siege puts the United Nations center stage as well as the debate between military versus diplomacy to solve crises. The problem that the “debate” is useless given that the crisis in this particular book could never have been solved diplomatically and this book is less than 400 pages as well as the story taking only about five hours in total. Besides this flaw is the one that has been running throughout the series, Paul Hood’s marriage which has been doomed to fail because Sharon Hood has been written to be literally be the unreasonable wife to the man running a government agency trying to do his best—how cliché can you get?—and it sinks to even worst levels here. And on top of that were the just bad dialog, characters literally knowing things they couldn’t actually know, plot holes all over the place, and finally not being able to decide what point-of-view to have from one paragraph to the next.

State of Siege keeps up the Op-Center tradition of having an intriguing plot, which is ruined by Jeff Rovin’s characterizations and overall subpar writing. This book is a big step down from the previous installment, Balance of Power, but is unfortunately more to type of what the series has been like for most of its run so far.

Op-Center

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (James Bond #6)

OHMSSOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The dual announcements that Sean Connery would retire from the role of James Bond and that the franchise would continue brought speculation as to who would play 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  The film based on the tenth novel written by Ian Fleming, the most faithful of any adaptation in the franchise, is George Lazerby’s sole outing as the famous British agent.

James Bond saves a woman, later identified as Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, from committing suicide by drowning off the coast of Portugal then later meets in a casino. Through a series of fights and kidnappings with bodyguards sent by her father, Bond learns Tracy is the only daughter of Marc-Ange Draco head of a European crime syndicate. In exchange for romancing Tracy, Bond asks Draco to find out where Ernst Stavro Blofeld is. After returning to London and having an argument with M, Bond travels to Portugal and romances Tracy then later learns through Draco to investigate a law firm in Bern, Switzerland. Bond finds out that Blofeld is looking to claim a noble title and corresponding with a member of the College of Arms, Sir Hilary Bray. Posing as Bray, Bond infiltrates Blofeld allergy research clinic in Switzerland where he is brainwashing young woman to be bacteriological warfare carries throughout the world. Bond, as Bray, attempts to persuade Blofeld to leave the country only to be discovered as an imposter which results in a ski chase and leading to Bond finding Tracy. After a car chase results in a few hours respite, Bond proposes to Tracy who accepts. The next morning as the chase ensues once again on skis; Blofeld sets off an avalanche and captures Tracy while Bond is briefly buried. Hearing from London, Bond learns that Blofeld is prepared to hold the world ransom and that it would be paid and directly orders him not to interfere. Bond then enlists his future father-in-law to mount a rescue attempt of Tracy and destroy Blofeld’s facility. After successfully rescuing Tracy, Bond chases Blofeld via bobsleigh until the SPECTRE mastermind is snared in a tree branch injuring his next. The film ends with the new Mr. and Mrs. Bond leaving their wedding and while stopped on the side of the road to remove flowers from their car, Blofeld drive by and kill Tracy in a hail of bullets with the film ending with a distraught Bond cradling Tracy in his arms.

From the beginning of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service there were two arcs of the plot, Bond romancing Tracy and Bond continuing his pursuit of Blofeld from You Only Live Twice, which were both independent and interwoven creating well-crafted story. With a new actor playing the main, producers wanted a film with plot over gadgetry to highlight this was the same character even with a new face. However this created a plot hole with the Bond-as-Bray infiltration of Blofeld’s clinic as while Blofeld had had plastic surgery, the film had gone to great lengths with references early in the film that the James Bond on screen was also the same in the previous five films which meant Blofeld should have instantly recognized Bond. Along with a new face as Bond and a return to plot, the stale formulas were either scrapped or toned down even in an attempt to let the new main man show his chops. George Lazerby’s sole outing as James Bond is very good, his portrayal was not perfect by any means especially in some of the more action and confrontational scenes but when it came to the love story with Tracy and the emotional ending he was excellent and better than Connery would have been. Diana Rigg’s Tracy is one of—if not—the best women in the franchise given the era when the film was produced and the actress portraying her. Telly Savalas’ Blofeld was a major improvement from the portrayal by Donald Pleasence in the previous film and frankly the Savalas Blofeld is to me is one of the best Bond villains.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best film in the Bond franchise, while Goldfinger might be more iconic, Lazerby’s sole installment is slightly better. While it would have been interesting to see Lazerby’s continued portrayal of James Bond, his dissatisfaction over the film and later pay would result in the return for one last go around for the man who made the character famous.

James Bond

Balance of Power (Op-Center #5)

440382fddbd0a39596b524e7177444341587343Balance of Power by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

With ethnic tensions suddenly boiling to the surface, Spain looks like it might go the way of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union or be kept together by a strong man in the image of Franco until Op-Center is put into the crossfire. Balance of Power, the fifth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin, ghosting for the titular Tom Clancy, once again finds Op-Center operatives in the middle of an international crisis but this time one of their own is set up with deadly consequences and vengeance is on everyone’s mind only to find that taken away by a man who allowed the attack to happen in an effort to forge Spain in his own image.

Sent to Madrid to help negotiate between two ethnic factions of the country, Martha Mackell is murdered by an assassin contracted by the very people she had been sent to help. The men who ordered her assassination are then killed on the orders of the Spanish Chief of Staff who is looking to become the next Franco by inciting ethnic riots around the country, especially in his native Castile. With one of their own killed and a NATO ally tilting between violently separating and a totalitarian regime, Op-Center must do everything in their power with the help of local Interpol officers to contain the situation. Yet Director Paul Hood must also confront a situation in his marriage while Darrel McCaskey, Op-Center’s FBI liaison deals with his old love interest an Interpol agent who decides to take out the would be Franco herself which complicates things with Striker and McCaskey personally.

Released in 1998, Balance of Power uses the tensions in Spain which resonates today given the situation in Catalonia and effectively conveys the tensions in the country. Unlike the previous book in which a character’s stupidity—General Mike Rodgers—basically drove the plot, it was conspiracies against conspiracies with independent human actors fighting for their country, honor, and more driving the plot which was a vast improvement. Maria Corneja, McCaskey’s ex and Interpol agent, is the most prominent secondary character and while she was fine overall, yet if you had changed her name to Mario (Italian I know) and “she” to “he” nothing would have changed—save the romantic angle—but to say Corneja was a man with tits would be going too far. While there were little things here and there that seem like tiny plot holes, nothing really stood out as completely awful but if I were to choose the worst part of the book, it’s once again Paul and Sharon Hood’s marriage which has been choreographed to be doomed since the first book.

Like several books before it, Balance of Power is another Op-Center book with an intriguing plot idea but for once Jeff Rovin writes the characters and narrative to carry it instead of undermining it like the three previous installments. While it’s not the greatest action thriller, it’s a solid story with interesting characters which is considerably better than all the other books in the series maybe even including the original Op-Center.

Op-Center