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

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

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