Sunday, February 9, 2014

Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon is a tough book to pigeon-hole.  Part thriller, part science fiction, part dystopia and all of it fascinating.  It manages the difficult task of being both wildly entertaining and deeply thought provoking.

Lexicon examines the power of words and language.  The power to influence, persuade and destroy.  It examines how we define ourselves and how our words and language reveal who we are, and having been revealed, make us vulnerable.  The importance of language is as ancient as the existence of the spoken word.  From biblical tales like the tower of babylon, to medieval charlatans to modern times with charismatic cult leaders or great political communicators.  Words can inspire or condemn.

Max Barry imagines a world where powerful people study and unlock the mysteries of language and use it to shape events to their needs.  The most skilled of these people are “poets” who manipulate the unskilled.

The plot is fairly breakneck.  Barry plunges you into the middle of the action leaving you somewhat bewildered as you try to make sense out of what is going on.  The plot jumps forward and backward in time, as well as to the side.  It is not immediately clear how the different storylines are connected, but they slowly converge to a coherent and satisfying conclusion.  The world and the story is revealed, rather than explained.  Strong characters exist throughout, yet uncertainty surrounds each of them as you cannot be sure until the end who they really are, or even if they are who they believe themselves to be.   

Lexicon is both exciting and unsettling.  It is one of those books that worms its way into your mind and lingers there.  It makes you think not only about the story itself, but about what truths it has revealed about human nature.  This is an extraordinary book and is one to be experienced as much as enjoyed.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Counterfeit Agent by Alex Berenson

The John Wells books get better every time out, and Alex Berenson has done it again with the latest book, The Counterfeit Agent.  The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been in this installment, with an apparent nuclear threat from Iran and events escalating to a possible all-out war between the United States and Iran. While Wells has never faced a more critical mission, the influence of his allies at the CIA, Shafer and former director, (now Senator) Duto may be at an all-time low.  

The mechanics of how you can manipulate an entire government are both fascinating and frightening.  The subtle ways to push people towards believing what they are already inclined to believe and the momentum that certain courses of events take once they’ve started makes for incredible reading.

John Wells is one of my favorite characters.  He’s smart, tough as nails, and incredibly resourceful.  His weaknesses and self-awareness are what make him stand out from other action heroes.  There is acknowledgement that with age his physical skills decline and there is further awareness that his own nature makes him prone to take action where prudence may serve him better.  Furthermore, there are consequences to his actions that must be overcome.  

Berenson’s attention to the secondary characters, both allies and his adversaries, add realism and excitement to the story.  The plot is intricate, but all too realistic.  The details of intelligence gathering, the resourcefulness and the guesswork, are fascinating.  The Counterfeit Agent races across the world from Istanbul to Guatemala to Hong Kong and Thailand.  The tension and the excitement ratchet up throughout.  

This book builds to an exciting and satisfying conclusion, but it leaves the ultimate resolution to a sequel.  I can’t wait to get my hands on it.  This may be the most exciting John Wells story yet.  A good book leaves you wanting more.  A great one leaves you needing more.  I need more John Wells.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.