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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
1) A well crafted intriguing plot with many surprising twists
2) Interesting, well developed central characters
3) Fast paced action
4) The wonderful cynical commentary woven into the story concerning the motivations of some despicable political operatives
5) An epilogue that cleverly ties up all the loose ends in a satisfying and somewhat surprising manner
1) Unnecessary violence and scenes of torture portrayed in excessive detail
2) Action in the final climatic scene that defies credibility even by the standards of such thrillers
I really enjoyed this action-thriller by Joseph Garber featuring unjustly disgraced CIA agent Charlie McKenzie. Charlie is relaxing at home with his daughter and grandson when he receives a panicked call from the president's national security advisor (a true sleazeball) concerning a national emergency so extreme (way beyond only a crisis) that the President has asked him to secretly recruit Charlie to utilize his unique skills in the service of his country. After some wonderful negotiating (which in other circumstances might be labeled blackmail), Charlie agrees to take the assignment to recover some top secret weapons technology codenamed WHIRLWIND which has been stolen by a Russian spy named Irina Kolodenkova. (Who, in a surprising twist, is not the villian of this story.)
This simple plot is made interesting by its myriad complications and a somewhat realistic technological premise; but it is the interaction of the characters and the psychological elements of the tale which result in much more than the standard storyline of this genre (which could be summarized as the struggle of an heroic -but flawed - individual opposed by the overwhelming resources of a major and unprincipled opponent). Charlie assumes that once he has located Irina and recovered the WHIRLWIND information, his knowledge will become a liability and he will be considered expendable, so he has to figure out how to accomplish his mission while preserving his future. At times this effort results in an uneasy alliance of convenience between Irina and Charlie, both of whom need each other if they are to remain alive once a super efficient paramilitary organization headed by a truly evil individual named Johan Schmidt is also hired to recover Whirlwind.
Details are impossible without spoilers, and in any case they wouldn't do justice to the enjoyment which this novel provides since much of it comes from the psychological elements and the tone and the interplay between the characters. There were a few instances where the description phrases were essentially prose poetry. My only reservations are detailed above, especially the violence, and this is my reason for not rating it a full five stars. I understand that it adds to the intensity of the story and provided additional support to the degree of danger faced by Charlie and Irina, but it was too sickeningly graphic for me although relegated to mercifully brief episodes.
In summary, this book is aptly titled WHIRLWIND, not only because that was the clever codename for the technology but also because while reading the story I felt gripped by the same WHIRLWIND in which the characters had been caught up. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I was furnished an advanced reader's copy of this book by the publisher based on the type of novels which I frequently review. I do not know the author or anyone affiliated with the publisher, and made no commitments concerning any review that I might write. However, this note is in the spirit of full disclosure, so the reader may decide if this factor may have influenced my opinion in any manner.
Whirlwind, by Joseph Garber, fills the gap admirably. A Russian spy obtains classified info on a weapon and holes up at the Russian embassy in San Francisco. She's hunted by CIA agent Charlie McKenzie, hired by a presidential hopeful, to `do anything' to stop Irina from passing on the information in exchange for lotsa money. But Charlie proves duplicitous, with another whole agenda, so his bosses send yet another agent to snag both Irina and Charlie (are you still with me?). So what's a guy like Charlie, both pursued and pursuing, to do?
Read Whirlwind and find out.
The basic plot that Garber weaves in *Whirlwind* involves the theft of an American top-secret weapon by Russian agents, but there is a lot more involved here, including distant maneuverings by the ever-ambitious Chinese, duplicitous U.S. government officials, for-hire [...] organizations, and on and on. The story is inventive, filled with twists and turns that for the most part are convincing and authentically surprising, and there is even some psychological exploration of the major characters. Overall, Garber's imagination, knowledge of the "spy business," and his literary talents render this a truly good read for anyone who might enjoy this type of novelistic thriller.
The very nature of the "spy thriller" genre imposes limitations on the work as "literature," however. The main characters, while certainly interesting, are almost cartoon-like in their near-omniscience, their almost unlimited powers to cope with any situation, no matter how dire. The female lead, the Russian agent Irina Kolodenkova, is, *of course*, gorgeous, blonde, brilliant, and almost infinitely resourceful. The book's hero, the out-of-retirement CIA operative Charlie McKenzie, while unique in his advanced age, is all-knowing and James Bond-like in his powers, including his powers of recuperation from physical injury.
That these protagonists, and also villainous South African mercenary Johan Schmidt can miraculously and often instantaneously solve any problem and escape any threat becomes the literary device of choice for Garber. While this allows the story to move forward vigorously, it starts to resemble in places the ancient Greek dramatic institution of *deus ex machina*, whereby whenever decisive solutions were needed within a play the gods would descend from on high to resolve all problems. This "geez, these people can do ANYTHING" tendency might cause some readers to roll their eyes after a while.
Another issue that might be a bit off-putting is the preponderance of blood and gore that punctuates the novel throughout. People squeamish about explicit descriptions of violence are hereby warned away.
I confess that *Whirlwind* is not the kind of novel I ordinarily would read, and yet I found it interesting and highly engrossing. The political/moral world-view revealed by Garber here is one that is cynical and hard-boiled, but in light of where trends seem to be taking us in the United States, I found his skepticism about political leaders and nation-states to be uncomfortably plausible. Overall, it's a good read.
Charles McKenzie is an old pro government agent, whose specialty was executing sanctions, until he was assigned to a job that backfired and his superiors have double-crossed him and hung him out to dry. He went to prison for a year-and-a-half, lost his pension, after 30 years of faithful service, and as a result he feels revengeful. Now, they need him again for a special job: a Russian agent, a beautiful young girl, has stolen a top military secret, including a device for electronic warfare and a computer disk, and the very man who set Charlie up before is begging his assistance in retrieving the stolen materials and capturing the enemy agent, with the clear implication that she will die under their interrogation..
Charlie has his opportunity to even the score and get his good name back.
This is a very suspenseful novel. It is extremely well written and appears to be carefully researched. I enjoyed it immensely, and I have no doubt you shall, too.
Joseph H. (Joe) Pierre
author Handguns and Freedom...their care and maintenance
and other books
The crisis begins when a couple of Russian spies who get away with a computer disk and a mysterious box break into a top secret government laboratory developing the latest and greatest in high-tech weaponry. These two items amount to critical information about project Whirlwind, a project that is hoped will put the US far ahead in the arms race.
The man charged with the recovery of the items is the National Security Advisor, Sam is the only name we're given for him, and he can only think of one person who might be capable of tracking down and capturing the surviving Russian spy and returning the secrets of Whirlwind. Charlie McKenzie, a retired CIA operative is that man, but Sam has double crossed Charlie in the past and the antagonism between the two men is immense. Charlie agrees to take the job, but not before making Sam pay through the nose for his services and the first part of the chase gets underway.
But Sam doesn't trust Charlie to keep his part of the agreed job and puts unrealistically tight controls on him, such as a tail, marked spending money and a bugged car. His fears are well-founded because Charlie senses that Sam's not being 100 per cent honest with him and quickly slips the Feds who are tailing him and ditches the bugged car before tracking down Irina Kolodenkova, the elusive Russian.
As soon as Charlie disappears Sam switches to plan B and calls Johan Schmidt. Schmidt is a ruthless mercenary with a team of more than 500 professionals capable of tracking down and neutralising anyone. Amazingly, Schmidt and Charlie McKenzie also have had an antagonistic history with each other, so much so that Schmidt is champing at the bit at the opportunity of killing Charlie. Small world, no? What follows is a frantic chase around America with the killers gradually closing the net on Irina and Charlie. But Charlie is elusive and has friends everywhere while Irina is much more resourceful than she first seems and together they are more than a match for their pursuers.
On the surface this is a fairly straightforward story: Russian spy snatches top secret information; ex-CIA operative tracks her down. But the inclusion of the second team in the chase adds tantalising complexity to the situation and then there is a hint of political intrigue hidden behind ulterior motives just to add spice. The further the story goes the more twisted grows the plot culminating in a super-charged ending.
In keeping with true action thrillers, the pace of the story is frantic thanks to a ticking clock scenario imposed by a time limit placed on the required capture by Sam. I thought this particular aspect of the story was a little contrived with no real compelling reason for the time limit ever given to us. Not so in keeping with many action books was the effort by Garber to give his principal characters a lot of background detail making them much more believable and us much more sympathetic towards them.
I felt the only real weakness in the story was the portrayal of Johan Schmidt. For a supposed professional soldier with high standards when it comes to discipline, his over-confidence and arrogance was totally at odds with the man he is supposed to be. When we are initially led to believe that a guy is the best of the best, I would expect that to hold true for the rest of the book. In my opinion this changed as the book progressed and the believability suffered as a result.
Joseph Garber has produced a second all-out thrill ride of a book, combining impossible escapes with some ruthlessly violent scenes. It's entertaining in the same way that Matthew Reilly's SCARECROW is entertaining, with action all the way.