ruthless.com (Power Plays #2)

0425165701.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_ruthless.com by Jerome Preisler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The new millennium started with a new kind of terrorism and now a new kind of security threat not only endangers national security but also corporations. ruthless.com, the second book in Tom Clancy’s Power Plays, written by Jerome Preisler finds Roger Gordian’s UpLink International under pressure of a hostile takeover from a longtime rival while half a world away his security team stumbles onto evidence of a union of drug dealers, corrupt politicians, and Gordian’s own rival to shock the world.

Marcus Caine’s Monolith Technologies is attempting a hostile takeover of Roger Gordian’s UpLink International thanks to a secret friendship with a longtime Wall Street expert undermining UpLink on television and newsprint while battling Gordian on encryption deregulation in the media and Congress. Half a world away in Singapore, Gordian’s employee Max Blackburn goes to met his girlfriend who works for Monolith’s Singapore division and who he convinced to spy on her employer, finding evidence of Caine’s illegal activities. However, Caine and his East Asian associates found out and attempt to kidnap both her and Max but only succeed in getting Max which leads to his death. The disappearance of Max gets his boss Peter Nimec anxious who has to tell Gordian, who doesn’t condone industrial spying, before heading to Singapore to find out what happen. Nimec saves Max’s girlfriend from the thugs looking for her and gets the information she stole while Gordian upsets Caine’s takeover bid after surviving a contract killing. Meanwhile UpLink security apprehends two mafia members attempting to steal encryption keycodes for a US nuclear submarine from a key-bank facility, which gets the Malay military to back up a similar facility from attack by rogue Indonesian military forces looking for codes for the same US nuclear submarine that has the US President and other regional leaders on it. In the aftermath of the failed terrorist attack, Caine has a mafia gunman kill him while Nimec gets revenge for Max on the man who killed him.

While ruthless.com is based on a computer game like Politika, the story elements Preisler was given to work with resulted in a better-quality story in narrative flow and how the various subplots interlinked with one another. The decision by Preisler to nix the Gordian separation/divorce subplot from the previous book was a massive improvement allowing the businessman and technologically thinking Gordian to come out more while the attempt on his life also allowed the reader to get a better insight into how he thinks. Another strong point was Preisler’s giving the various antagonists some buildup early to give them gravitas, which means when the protagonists go up against them later in the story there’s importance to the confrontation in whichever way it happens. The only downside was that Peter Nimec comes in relatively late in the book, especially if memory serves, he becomes the main action guy as the series progresses.

ruthless.com is a solid follow up installment in the Power Plays series that improves where the first book faltered. Jerome Preisler writes a nice mixture of business intrigue and international terrorism plotting that keeps you looking forward to seeing what happens.

Power Plays

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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

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

When Time Began (The Earth Chronicles #5)

When Time BeganWhen Time Began by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The mysteries surrounding Stonehenge have filled countless books, but what if there were other ancient megaliths just like it around the world? When Time Began is the fifth book by Zecharia Sitchin’s of his The Earth Chronicles examining the correlations between the calendars from cultures around the world and how they all appear to be related to beginning around the same time period, culminating in Mankind entering its first “New Age”.

Sitchin began with a recounting of “the beginning of time” according to his research when Nibiru entered the solar system then later when the Anunnaki arrived on Earth and finally after the Deluge. Then focused turned to Stonehenge, its construction and astronomical alignments along with when they occurred. He then transitioned to showing other circular astronomical designs from around the world, beginning in Sumer but also in the Americas before turning his attention to their significance to the politics of the Anunnaki especially concerning the numerous separate exiles of Thoth and his brother Marduk/Ra. Building off the his work in The Wars of Gods and Men and The Lost Realms, Sitchin explains that the events leading up to the end of the Sumerians were caused not only by the politics but astronomy and religion which were one and the same. And the aftermath was not only the end of the Sumerians, but also that of a “unified” religion and the birth of national deities.

Unlike the previous books, Sitchin mixed his usual academic approach at the beginning of his books with his own theories and explanations creating a different feel this book compared to his others. Another aspect is that this book felt more of a “continuation” of the two previous mentioned books as Sitchin adds more evidence for this theory on the colonization of the Americas as well as give more details leading to and the aftermath of fall of Sumer. Yet this last aspect is where the flaws of the book are the most pronounced as, even without an added quarter-century of archaeological discoveries the errors are hard not to miss take notice of with or without an open mind.

The information and theories proposed in When Time Began have stuck with me since I first read it and caused me to misremember things in other books. Zecharia Sitchin continued to build his theory on the foundations of his previous books, but unlike them the errors were a little harder to ignore in this particular installment. If you have read his previous volumes by all means read this one as well, however be warned that some conjectures and theories are simply incorrect unlike others that can be reasonably debated.

The Earth Chronicles

Game Plan

0140369708-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Game Plan by Thomas J. Dygard
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Barton High Tigers’ head coach is injured and everyone is worried who’ll be the coach for Friday’s upcoming game, enter the student manager. Game Plan by Thomas J. Dygard follows Beano Hatton as he is propelled from nobody student manager to acting coach with all the pressures of school work and getting players to follow his lead, all while figuring out how to actually coach and prepare for a game.

Except for the first chapter, the narrative follows Beano Hatton beginning for being called to the principal’s office for the first time in his life—though not the last he’d have that week—and being asked to coach the Tigers football team against rivals Carterville. Except for telling his best friend Danny to cover for him as student manager, Beano keeps quiet until the Principal gives the team the news and hands it over to Beano. What follows is an awkward, stressful week as Beano figures out how Coach Pritchard scouts and makes up game plans while at the same time attempting to get the team to follow his lead, easier said than done with the star quarterback having an issue with him. But once Friday night comes and the ball is kicked, Beano has to manage the game.

From kickoff to the final whistle, Dygard writes a convincing flow of a football game which after the narrative build-up before and through the game of Beano making coaching decisions makes for a thrilling last third of the book. The first two-thirds of the book reads like a made-for-television young adult movie, but actually good. Though some of Dygard’s dialogue and words choices are a little off, they would be far superior to what one would hear and see on the aforementioned movie. The only other fault would be Dygard basically not having Coach Pritchard not have any notes on upcoming opponents which sounds far-fetched even for a little town high school coach with a staff of one.

Game Plan is one of those young adult sports books that is simply a good read that can be done in a day because it draws you in and frankly is nearly perfect for a book of its genre. Thomas J. Dygard hits all the right narrative keys to make this book keep the reader interested in how a nobody student manages to gain enough confidence of the football team to lead them through the last game of the season.