Shadow Watch (Power Plays #3)

0425171884.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Shadow Watch by Jerome Preisler
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The 21st Century from its inception has been bloody and prone to new security risks with UpLink International seemingly connected in some way, then the Space Shuttle explodes on the launch pad. Shadow Watch is the third book in Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series written by Jerome Preisler that sees UpLink and its Sword security forces come up against a different type of adversary that sees Roger Gordian’s idealism as a threat to his black-market businesses.

The Space Shuttle Orion catches fire and explodes on the launch pad killing its commander as Roger Gordian is an eyewitness as UpLink is the major contractor of the ISS that Orion was to begin construction. Several days later a mercenary force attacks an UpLink run ISS related facility in Brazil, which makes the next ISS-related launch by the Russians seem like the next target. Which is what Harlan DeVane and his mercenary leader want not only UpLink but the Russians to believe as well. But DeVane wants the “attack” to be a diversion so that his mercenary chief can plant a device on the ISS component to turn it into a weapon he can attack and blackmail governments with, however UpLink’s new Sword operative sniffs out the plan and prevents the device from being installed though the mercenary agent escapes. But DeVane gives UpLink its due but moves on to the next project.

Unlike the two previous books in the series, this one is pure setup for the future installments because it introduced several significant characters though at the expense of a focused story that all the plotlines easily connected with one another. The book bounces all over the place from Cape Canaveral to Brazil to San Jose to Maine to Bolivia to Albania to Kazakhstan with a specific plotline (or several) in each location that related to the main plot but honestly some could have been scrapped. Preisler dedicated an entire chapter to a Brazilian train disaster caused by a smaller version of the device that DeVane planned to install on the ISS component, but it was separated into about five different points-of-view that just made it weird and essentially seem like filler. The feel of the entire book was just setting things up for future books.

While Shadow Watch isn’t necessarily a good book, it’s alright and frankly meant to introduce many characters that will prove pivotal to future installments of the series. Once again dealing with creating a story around a computer game, Preisler did a passable job but not as good as either of the two previous books in the Power Plays series.

Power Plays

Advertisements

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

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

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

Politika (Power Plays #1)

0425162788.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Politika by Jerome Preisler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the man who transitioned Russia from a Communist government to a free-market capitalist one dies with no clear successor with his nation on the verge of famine, numerous factions in the Russian Federation begin aligning to take power. Politika is the first book in Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series, created by Clancy and Martin Greenberg but written by Jerome Preisler. With Russia in chaos and some looking towards help from the United States, some Russian elements target Americans including employees of American tech giant UpLink to grab power but draw the ire of the company’s CEO.

The death of Boris Yeltsin in the fall of 1999 results in the Russian Federation being ruled by a political troika of Vice President Vladimir Starinov, the nationalist party leader Arkady Pedachenko, and Andrei Korsikov a Communist-era functionary supported by the military leading a nation on the verge of famine towards an uncertain future. As Starinov goes to the United States and the West for food aid and loans, Pedachenko sets about worsening his country’s food situation and plots to turn American opinion against his country with a devastating New Year’s Eve terrorist attack in Time’s Square with the help of terrorist for hire and local Russian mobsters. Roger Gordian, the CEO of tech giant UpLink International, known this unprecedented terrorist attack could result in attacks on his employees around the world since the security branch of his company, Sword, into investigative mode to find out who sponsored the attack and so better secure is employees. Using various sources in the U.S. government, Sword operatives connect the attack to the Russian mob and its leader in Moscow even though everyone else is looking at a right-hand lieutenant of Starinov’s. After an attack on an UpLink satellite station in Russia, Gordian authorizes getting at the mob boss then in okay his security force to prevent an assassination attempt on Starinov set up by Pedachenko. Using the information proved by UpLink, Starinov secures his position and regains aid from the West while Gordian is left mourning the loss of his employees.

Having to base Politika off of a computer game of the same name, Preisler developed a story as best he could under the circumstances though there were some problems. The order of terrorist attacks on either the American homeland or corporations aboard might have been changed to allow a better rational for Gordian and UpLink’s involvement as it doesn’t make sense for a corporation to investigate the greatest terrorist attack on the side, if however it were investigating into the attack on it’s own facility and it got linked to the attack in Time’s Square it would have resulted in a more natural story process. That said, the overall concept of a international corporation having a strong security arm that would at within the laws of its host nation to protect itself is intriguing and reminds me why I became a fan of this series when I was a teenager. That Preisler, with Clancy and Greenberg, was able to predict Yeltsin’s presidency ending in 1999 and the worst terrorist attack on American soil happening in New York City way back in 1997 is eerie, especially with references about the Twin Towers from points-of-view in New York. If there was one thing I didn’t like was that Gordian was given a cliché separation and/or divorce angle to his character at the start of the book, given how that same storyline drags down the Op-Center series I’m not looking forward to it in this one.

While Politika was based off a computer game, Jerome Preisler was able to write around that issue as best he could to at least establish the main elements of the Power Play series going forward in UpLink, it’s CEO, and its security arm Sword. Overall a good read and nice beginning to another Tom Clancy created series.

Power Plays

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