Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: "Discreet Activities"

If you like vigilante justice, you will probably like Discreet Activities by Claude Bouchard. Thematically, it's a Charles Bronson Death Wish on steroids. On the subject matter side, this is a love it or hate it novel. I love it when terrorists' butts are kicked and kicked soundly. However, there is a negative psychogical bent to the well-funded, -groomed, and -connected, above-the-law good guys (shades of The Star Chamber) that makes them one step away from being legalized terrorists themselves. There is a remorselessness about the murder and mayhem they perform for the sake of Canadian justice, and that makes them cardboard characters in the story. It could be argued by the end of the story that the reader has a better feel for some of the "minor" league terrorists than the good guys. But again, there isn't close to the level of understanding about terrorist motivation in this book that there was in the movie, Syriana.

The short novel moves, which is one good thing. It's also a bad thing. I found myself skimming over some of the more mundane dialogue that often passed for informational dumps and some of the step-by-step narration of character movements, which took the place of deepening the plot. Some of the technical tools of the trade were interesting, but again seemed to be detailed to the point of showing off the research not heighten the story line. The diversions (sub-plots) from the main plot are more to show how bad-ass the "good" guys are rather than taking the time to strengthen and deepen the main plot and intrigue. The grammatical faux pas are nothing about which to get a twist in your knickers.

The author does continually raise the stakes, though the tension is often diminished because the good guys moves are played out ahead of time. A number of reader surprises are rendered flat because of this technique. And to that end, there is only one major plot twist within the body of the story that is well played out. There is a nice reversal at the end, and one final dig that was nicely, though implausible dropped into the end of the story. If you like drop-kicking bad guys, it's a four. But for thriller aficionados, it's a ho-hum three.

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