Friday, January 21, 2022

Redemption: review

Scottish author Will Jordan goes by the moniker The Critical Drinker on YouTube, and he's one of my favorite movie critics. He's been hawking a series of novels he's written, so I finally bit the bullet and bought Redemption, the first book of Jordan's Ryan Drake series. Drake, our protag, is meant to be something like Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher.

Ryan Drake is an ex-SAS Englishman currently working with the American CIA. He is tasked with assembling a team and rescuing a woman code-named Maras from a Russian prison. Maras's rescue is only the first part of the story, though, as Drake finds himself enmeshed in a web of intrigue regarding who Maras is and why she's such a valuable intelligence asset. The novel's plot includes some twists and turns, and we eventually build up to who the real bad guy is, behind the scenes and pulling the strings.  (As some Amazon reader-reviewers noted, it's not much of a surprise.) Several characters in the story have questionable paths and are seeking some sort of redemption, so the novel's title has multiple meanings.

I used to read Mack Bolan the Executioner adventures back when I was a kid. Jordan's novel reminded me, a little, of those heady days: there are occasional technical descriptions of fighting techniques, weaponry, and military technology, but unlike with the Bolan books, Jordan doesn't beat you over the head with all the technical minutiae.

The plot of Redemption moves along at a healthy pace; Jordan has a good idea of how to set the tempo, which often feels cinematic, smash-cutting Crichton-like from scene to scene as if the author were hoping to have his novel turned into a movie adaptation. Along with being well-paced, the plot offers decent characterization (some unsympathetic characters end up being more dimensional than they appear at first glance), and the story is smart enough to answer questions that might pop up in the reader's mind.

Like Lee Child, author of many Jack Reacher novels, Will Jordan is a Brit who writes American characters. Overall, I think Jordan actually does a better job than Child of capturing the American way of talking, although there are times when certain Britishisms make their way into American mouths. Jordan also slips up with certain iconic American names, like that of Frederick Douglass, whose surname is misspelled as Douglas in the novel.

There were other flaws and inaccuracies in the narrative as well. Jordan's description of DC's climate was a bit off-pitch: he made it out to be more tropical than it really is, and I'm not sure he had the best grasp of DC-MD-VA geography. A Marine character is listed as a West Point graduate, which would be a rare bird, indeed. It wasn't until late in the novel that Jordan used the American term "GPS" to describe what the Brits call "sat nav."

The character of Maras, while shrouded in mystery, also came off, at times, as a bit one-note: a pure killer whose training allows her to defeat almost all opponents. And inevitably, a sort-of romance develops between Maras and protagonist Drake; it comes off a bit corny.

The story seemed to be laced with deliberate or accidental references to TV and movie pop culture; many situations seemed ripped straight out of the series "24," for example: Drake is forced by a terrorist to go against his own team, which is something that happened to Jack Bauer more than once in "24," and later in the novel, an interrogator gets information out of a recalcitrant prisoner by faking a family member's death in exactly the same manner in which the same scene happened in one of the later seasons of "24," right up to the overturning of a chair before the fake-shooting of the victim. Two characters in the story are named Dietrich and Frost, which are the names of two characters in 1986's "Aliens." There's an "I shot a kid" line that is almost definitely from "Die Hard." Another evil character says, "When I found out it was you, I said I'd do it for nothing," which I believe echoes Bennett's line in Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Commando."

On a linguistic note: Will Jordan, being British, writes in an unrepentantly British style. Once you, as an American, get into the flow of the story, you might stop noticing some of the more obvious stylistic quirks, like using single quotes for dialogue, writing colour and manoeuvre instead of color and maneuver, etc., but whenever certain American characters accidentally sound less American, this may prove jarring to your Yankee mind. (I was also amused to see ministry used in an American context instead of department.)

So Redemption contained some admittedly derivative elements and had some linguistic quirks, but overall, the story was gripping, and not in a Dan Brown way. Dan Brown tends to end all his chapters on cliffhangers as a way to keep the reader hooked, but Jordan doesn't repeatedly pull that trick ad nauseam. If you're in the mood for a spy novel with a lot of action, suspense, and decent characters, you could do far worse than pick up a copy of Redemption. It's not Shakespeare, but it's a satisfying read.


ADDENDUM: I should note that, despite my nitpicking about Britishisms, I would be hard-pressed to write a novel featuring British characters who sounded authentically British. I know a lot of little British linguistic quirks, but I can't string them together to create naturalistic British dialogue. So please recalibrate your assessment of my criticism with all that in mind. I'm aware that it's hard to write authentic dialogue in an idiom that's not your own, so if anything, Will Jordan deserves praise for having the balls to try and mostly succeed.

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