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

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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

Acts of War (Op-Center #4)

41qiry45kxl-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Acts of War by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Decades of repression by several nations has led to a unprecedented unification of militants looking to create a nation for the Kurds and their plan is so audacious that it could result in a war ranging from the Arabian Sea into Eastern Europe and possibly the fracturing of NATO, Op-Center must manage to contain this crisis even as members of their own team are held hostage. Written by Jeff Rovin, but named for Tom Clancy, Acts of War is the fourth book of the Op-Center series which sees a well-planned attack by Kurdish militants send Turkey and Syria on the verge of war as the action spans from Eastern Turkey to the streets of Damascus and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

A four-man team of Syrian Kurds cross into Turkey, attack the Turkish guards then are able to commander a military helicopter that they use to destroy the Ataturk Dam. Nearby General Mike Rodgers heads a small team testing the first Regional Op-Center—ROC—that will allow for better crisis management, deciding to scout the attack on the Dam with a Turkish liaison officer, they are captured by three of the Kurds which leads to the capture of the ROC when they attempt to rescue the duo. Meanwhile the strike of the Dam has cause Turkey to mobilize it’s forces south to the Syrian border, the Syrian mobilize theirs to the north, Iraq begins making moves towards Kuwait, and other nations begin stepping up their military including Greece which might ally itself with Syria. With a possible general war in the Middle East about to break out the President sends Op-Center head Paul Hood to Damascus to negotiate with Syrian President. Hood sends Op-Center’s military team, Striker, to Israel so as to set up a rescue of the capture ROC before the President decides to destroy it and the hostages in a missile strike before the Kurds can use US intelligence for the rest of their plan, including a coordinated attack in the heat of Damascus which puts Hood in the crossfire. Through both luck and the calling in of various favors around the region, Op-Center is able to resolve the crisis before it escalates into general war but not without a price.

Released in 1997, Acts of War used the volatile political landscape of that time—and save the good relationship between Israel and Turkey of now—as the setting for this action thriller. Unfortunately a lot of the book comes down to the stupidity of General Mike Rodgers’ essentially boyish need to be a cowboy instead of an actual military officer and then his actions against the Kurds while being a hostage the endangered all the other hostages before murdering a Kurd who tortured him after he had been captured by Striker. The positives of the book such as the well thought out plan of the Kurdish militants to create a general war, the Israeli spy of Druze descent who scouts the Bekaa Valley and helping the now Brett August lead Striker team’s action in combat, and the analysis the various nightmare scenarios of a general war in the Middle East are all outweighed by everything dealing with Rodgers, including a Presidential pardon for killing said Kurd with no ramifications like say retiring, negates everything.

Acts of War, like several previous Op-Center books, has an intriguing plot idea that is undermined by poor writing though amazingly for different reasons than previous book. Yet this book is a rather frustrating and somewhat disappointing read, more so than Mirror Image, because it shows Jeff Rovin is knowingly doing bad writing on an element in one book when he’s showed before or shows later that he knows how to write good on that same element.

Op-Center

Games of State (Op-Center #3)

Games of StateGames of State by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The demons of hate are reemerging in the newly united Germany and finding root in various countries around the world linked through the shadowy recesses of the Internet and fueled by a businessman looking both for profit and triumph of bigotry, yet Op-Center must find a way to prevent chaos from exploding around the world. Games of State is the third installment of Op-Center that bears the name of its creator Tom Clancy, yet is written by Jeff Rovin. From Germany to the streets of the U.S. to southern France, the action and thrill are palpable as the race to prevent the rise of a new wave of hate.

Gerard Dominique, a French billionaire financier and computer game mogul, is uniting hate groups throughout Europe and the United States to destabilize numerous countries and allow France to once again lead Europe. Part of his plan is to use hate filled video games downloaded onto the Internet and well time hate crimes in various locations to bring about political and societal chaos. Yet the unplanned actions of other hate leaders resulting in a kidnapped young American woman needing to be rescued, the hate-filled enticement towards the son of Op-Center’s Striker team leader over the Internet, the unexpected meeting of Op-Center head Paul Hood with his former fiancée now a Dominique employee, and Dominique’s own hubris results in his plans failing to materialize.

Released in 1996, Games of State brought together many political and cultural threads to create the backdrop of very riveting political thriller with action-packed sequences as well. However well the set up and the ideas were, the use of formulaic tropes that are standard in one-hour TV dramas and paperbacks undermined the potential of a book. What was most disheartening was the ease in which I was able to see which newly introduced characters would result in instantly being important in a 100 or 200 pages just when they were needed, these and other plot twists decreases the enjoyment of the book. Though one can argue that my complaints are to be expected in this type of book, I would argue that one doesn’t mind if the tropes are written well.

Games of State had an intriguing plot idea, but was undermined by poor writing decisions that turned what could have been a good page-turner into an okay read. Though the book’s execution was poor, it was a better read than the previous Op-Center installment, Mirror Image, even with my rating being the same for the both of them.

Op-Center Series

Mirror Image (Op-Center #2)

Mirror ImageMirror Image by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Old guard elements in Russia look to reconstitute the old Soviet Empire, however their plans run into a stumbling block in the form of Op-Center and their Russian counterpart. Mirror Image is the second book in the Op-Center series bearing that bears the name of Tom Clancy, but was actually ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin. From the historic Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg to the streets of New York to the frozen wilderness of Siberia, the action spans across the world as forces and individuals battle to reignite or prevent a new Soviet era.

Nikolai Dogin, Russian Minister of the Interior and loser of the Presidential election, convinces his old guard coalition members to go along with “Plan B” which amounts to a military revolution to reignite the old Soviet Empire. One of his most important pieces in the newly created Operations Center (ROC), a Russian crisis management center exactly like Op-Center, but its head General Sergei Orlov might not be the figurehead Dogin hopes. The old guard’s plan begins with a bombing in New York to keep the United States out of Eastern Europe, but results in Op-Center zeroing in on its Russian counterpart that is Orlov and his second-in-command (a Dogin flunky) battling for control. Yet Dogin’s dealings with the Russian mafia prove his undoing as a shipment of drug money to pay off Polish, Belarussian, and Ukrainian officials becomes the focus of the ROC and Op-Center on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Written in the mid-90s when post-Soviet era Russia provided a lot of potential to the political thriller genre, Mirror Image took an interesting tack that could have provided an very good book however there was many unfortunate mistakes that made this seem a “set up” book for later events in the Op-Center series. The first was the blurb on the back cover of the book itself which stated the hardliners wanted to return Russia to the days of the Czar, within the first 15 pages of the book this statement is proven false and things are just starting. There are father-son issues dominating the Russian side of the book as Orlov and his son’s past that would play a major role at the book’s climax, which was very much telegraphed from the onset. An important character dies at the climax, which is pretty much telegraphed throughout his point-of-views. However, the most irritating thing with the book was that characters “magically” got information or knew things that the story didn’t support them knowing or characters didn’t act like they should of (Orlov not getting into contact with the new President seems to be the most glaring). Although most of the book seemed paint-by-the-numbers, the British spy network subplot was the best of the book.

Mirror Image seemed to be a book meant to add elements to the overall “world” of Op-Center to set up future stories as Rovin relied on telegraphing the story’s direction and creating in-story plot holes. While Sergei Orlov and British spy Peggy James are the two stand out characters, it’s not saying much because previously establish characters were in a holding pattern and other new characters were two-dimensional. This book could have been very good, it just average and almost subpar.

Op-Center Series

You Only Live Twice (James Bond #5)

YOLTYou Only Live Twice
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

After four consecutive films in as many years, there was a two year wait before You Only Live Twice arrived in theaters. While sharing the title with the eleventh novel written by Ian Fleming, this film was the first to diverge completely from the written material mainly because one of the main storylines of the book could not be covered because it had not occurred in any previous film.

An American spacecraft is hijacked from orbit by a SPECTRE spacecraft resulting in the United States accusing the Soviets, who deny it. The British suspect Japanese involvement since the unidentified craft landed in the Sea of Japan. Upon faking his death, James arrives in Japan to investigate meeting with Aki, the MI6 station chief, and then Aki’s boss Japanese secret service chief Tiger Tanaka. Bond identifies Osato Chemicals as being a part of the plot, meeting with Mr. Osato and his security Helga Brandt, and identifying a suspicious cargo ship owned by Osato. After a failed investigation of the cargo ship, Bond almost killed by Brandt but is able to escapes death but results in Brandt being killed by the head of SPECTRE who orders Osato to kill Bond. Then SPECTRE hijacks a Soviet spacecraft resulting in the Soviet Union to blame the Americans as tensions rise. While investigating an island the cargo ship had passed, Bond battles helicopters confirming the island’s importance. Tanaka develops a plan to crash train Bond as a ninja, disguise him as a Japanese fisherman to be married to a local woman, and search for the base so Tanaka can attack with a force of 100 ninjas. During the process, an Osato henchman kills Aki making things personal for Bond. Bond proceeds with Tanaka’s plan and with his “wife” Kissy discover the SPECTRE base, Kissy goes to inform Tanaka while Bond infiltrates the base. Discovering the missing Astronaut and Cosmonauts, Bond attempts to get on board the SPECTRE spacecraft but is spotted by SPECTRE’s mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld. While meeting Blofeld, Tanaka’s forces attack the base and a timely intervention by Bond allows some into the base. Blofeld retreats killing Osato and orders a henchman to kill Bond. Bond defeats the henchman and is able to destroy the SPECTRE spacecraft before it can hijack another American spacecraft. Blofeld’s sets off the base’s self-destruct forcing Bond and Tanaka’s forces to escape through a former lava tunnel to be rescued by Japanese and British maritime units.

Unlike the previous installment, You Only Live Twice set a narrative pace that was steady throughout the film keeping the viewer engaged in the film. Setting the film nearly all the scenes in and around Japan was a departure from previous Bond films, however it helped keep the film focused while still giving spectacular background visuals throughout the film. Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay with collaboration from director Lewis Gilbert, resulting in a singular vision of the film that helped the overall product. Yet the film isn’t without some flaws, some unfortunate and others detrimental. The most unfortunate is the running time, which could have been cut in several places including some action sequences that ran just a tad too long. The other was the reliance an formulas, some of which Dahl commented on in later interviews that he was told to include while being given free rein over the rest of the story, that over the course of five films were getting stale. But the biggest flaw was Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who made his debut as a little, scarred, bald man played by Donald Pleasence. With three of the previous four Bond films having involved SPECTRE, the reveal of Blofeld is somewhat of a letdown considering that both Dr. No and Emilio Largo were both more intimidating and overall more impressive antagonists for Bond to faceoff with. What does not help is that Pleasence’s Blofeld is the go to megalomaniacal villain that parodies of all Bond and spy genre films go for.

You Only Live Twice is a fun, good paced film but when compared to the previous four films of the Connery era there are problems that an observant viewer can pick out. Although this was meant to be Connery’s swansong as the titular character, he didn’t call-in his performance but there are issues that hurt the overall product that were out of his control. Overall it’s a nice film, nothing better or worse.

James Bond Film Page