Call to Treason (Op-Center #11)

0425195465.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Call to Treason by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The death of a British financial giant after attending a party hosted by a U.S. Senator that’s ready to start a third-party run for the White House grabs headlines then a suddenly downsized Op-Center gets a call from Scotland Yard. Call to Treason is the eleventh book written by Jeff Rovin of the Op-Center series as a suddenly out-of-work Mike Rodgers is recruited by Senator Orr to be apart of this third-party run for the White House when Op-Center begins investigating the death of a British financier who’s business ideas opposed those of the Senator thus forcing Rodgers to make some hard choices as events unfold.

General Mike Rodgers attends a party thrown by Senator Don Orr and finds himself being recruited to join the Senator’s team for a run for the White House, also at the party is British financier William Wilson who hours later is killed in his hotel room by an unknown woman with an injection underneath his tongue. The next day Rodger’s learns from Paul Hood that Op-Center’s budget has been slashed and he is out of a job which makes his decision to join the Orr campaign easy but then Darrel McCaskey gets a call from Scotland Yard to take a look at the Wilson’s death he finds the injection site with he coroner and suddenly Op-Center is investigating the death and having to investigate Senator Orr’s party guests and his staff making Rodgers be in a tough spot. Orr’s soon to be Vice Presidential candidate Admiral Link, a former head of Naval Intelligence and director of covert ops at the CIA, thinks this is Hood trying to get Op-Center’s funding back and is hostile to Rodgers. Then a American businessman is murdered the same way as Wilson making it appear like a serial killer, but McCaskey’s wife Maria Corneja sees it as a way to distract from Wilson. The two hit the pavement and the misdirection gets them to focus on Link and Orr’s staff, which results in Link sending an E-bomb to Op-Center that knocks out all their electronics and kills someone. Though he had told Hood he was resigning that day, Rodger’s is pissed at the death of a coworker and tells Hood he didn’t official change his resignation date and will join the investigation. McCaskey and Corneja find out that a Washington detective was being blackmailed then using information that Rodger’s remember from his interaction with Orr’s staff arrest the killer while Rodgers realizes he’s being had at the third-party convention in San Diego when suddenly Link is kidnapped. However, Rodger’s figures out that the target is Orr and stops his abduction then locates Link who admits that he had the second victim killed to keep his plan to discredit Orr and force him out of the race especially after Orr had Wilson killed. Orr and his staff are arrested the next day and Rodgers effectively kills the newborn third party.

From the beginning this book was a mess, the first thing was slashing Op-Center’s budget in the era of Homeland Security and the War on Terror which were referenced in the book when the exact opposite would have happen especially given Op-Center’s record of taking out terrorists. The downsizing was essentially a vehicle to get Rodgers on Senator Orr’s team to make his conflict of interest to add to the story, only it became frustrating since it rolled back character development of several books. But the worst part of the book was the unreliable narrator device Rovin used for two character POVs to create a surprise twist at the end of the book, however given that over 10 books and every other POV in this book he had never used this device before thus making it’s inclusion problematic at best or just plain lying to readers at worst. The only good thing I could say about this book were the McCaskey’s interacting with one another.

Call to Treason is the penultimate book in the first run of the Op-Center series, but it’s probably the worst. Since finishing the book my view of it has diminished a lot as it seemed that Jeff Rovin was told that the series would be ending after the next book, War of Eagles, and he decided to just call it in. The result was a insult to readers who were teased with a potentially interesting political thriller and were instead given a Swiss cheese novel with glaring plot holes and diminished characters.

Op-Center

Sea of Fire (Op-Center #10)

0425190919.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Sea of Fire by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

A pirate attack on what appears to tourist yacht is derailed by a firefight and ends with an explosion, but the lone pirate survivor washes up on shore with traces of radiation. Sea of Fire is the tenth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin follows Lowell Coffey and Bob Herbert teaming up with Australian and Singaporean investigators to find out who is smuggling nuclear waste and for what purpose.

Lee Tong leads his pirate crew on a raid on a yacht, but the yacht security shoots up his boat and a bullet hit an explosive destroying his boat. Tong is found by an Australian naval vessel with radiation detectors and quarantined in a hospital, his discovery results in a high-level Australian official getting Op-Center’s international law expert Lowell Coffey from Sydney to help deal with the situation. After interviewing Tong with Australians and a Singaporean female naval officer, Coffey gets in contact with Paul Hood and Bob Herbert about suspicion of the pirates attacking a boat smuggling nuclear waste which makes Herbert head Down Under to be on site. On the yacht the captain, Kannady, and the security chief, Hawke, have a confrontation in regards to tell their employer, Australian billionaire Jervis Darling, which the captain loses starting a chain reaction that leads to Hawke basically leading a one man mutiny that succeeds due to Kannady being predictable. The Singaporeans and Australians go to a nearest nuclear waste dumpsite to where the Tong was found and find the radiation levels lower than they should be, which leads to them tracking the last boat scheduled to dispose of material then the owner and his business associates that include Darling. On the flight to Australian Herbert takes the Darling lead and focus’ on it even though the Australians are hesitant to get close to him. However once Herbert arrives, he takes over the investigation and forces a confrontation with Darling at his home but messes up, but Darling orders the yacht sunk to have Kannady go down with the ship. However, Kannady escapes his flooding cabin, grabs flares, and gets to the deck of the yacht where to shots them off at the dinghies and in the sky before getting pulled down by the sinking yacht to drown. The investigators searching for the ship see the flares and save Hawke who claims to by Kannady but is found out. Having the ship and crew survivors allows Herbert to confront Darling at an airport and prevents him from leaving Australia in his jet and getting arrest for assault.

This installment of the series was a step down from the previous installment, which was one of if not the best of whole series. While the book focus’ on two of Op-Centers management team, one that had been focused on before (Herbert) and the first for the other (Coffey), Paul Hood is in the background and Mike Rodgers is only briefly seen thus changing the dynamic for the first time in the series. The change means that the HUMINT from the last book is put in the backseat, but given it was just starting and the ending of the previous book indicated this installment would be happening right after it which meant they could not have moved personnel around that wasn’t an issue. However, the book’s turned away from the previous installment’s implied direction was on top of the lack of reasons why Jervis Darling decided to smuggle nuclear waste in the first place and why Herbert decided to focus on him a la Captain Ahab with Moby Dick. While the action sequences and the conflict connected with Kannady and Hawke were interesting, plus the point-of-view time there was with Singaporean Female Naval Officer Monica Loh was a nice bonus but none of these can make up for the narrative stumbles.

While Sea of Fire is a step down in quality but is still okay which given Jeff Rovin’s track record in this series is a positive. This is the last Op-Center book I ready during the original run, so how the last two books are going to interesting and hopefully are built upon the foundations of the last few books.

Op-Center

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

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