9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I'm so far enjoying this series, the adventure of Will Cochrane, code-named Spartan, a highly-trained MI6 agent who operates as a virtual lone wolf.
In this episode Cochrane meets his predecessor, code-named Sentinel, now managing a network of high-level Russian spies. But spies are being killed off one by one. And meanwhile, Russian nationalists are trying to trigger war, which they can then use to consolidate power at home.
Cochrane finds himself up against a Russian commando as formidable and resourceful as he is. Meanwhile, as he works with Sentinel to catch their adversary, he must contemplate the loneliness of the superspy's life he has chosen. The Sentinel has made that choice and is a living example of what might happen if he stays on his current career path.
I'm of two minds about the trend toward introspective spies. At one point in time, this was more about espionage knights questioning whether the West was worth risking one's life for, and whether Communism was really that bad. Writers, and former agents, like John Le Carre and Graham Greene went there. There is also, of course, the typical British spy novel involving a middle-aged protagonist with a divorce and a drinking problem. There's a certain realism to that.
Nowadays, though, it's more about establishing the protagonist as a New Age sensitive guy. This in turn is probably fed by a desire to make them, and their stories, more attractive to female readers, who drive book sales as an overwhelming majority of the book-buying public. (All those book clubs.) Male readers are happy enough with a James Bond type spy: Cool in battle, hot with the ladies, using great gadgets and having no worries. And, OK, if he occasionally is a little more three-dimensional, that's not terrible either. But the ladies want more angst, lots more angst, than that.
Cochrane is not annoyingly sensitive. The champion of that category is Alex Berenson's John Wells, who after an interesting start as a deep-cover agent against Al Qaeda who also (a la "Homeland") converts to Islam, later becomes drenched in ambivalence about Who He Is. He's whipped by his affair with his controller, The Only Person Who Believes In Him. And he's way too likely to jump onto his motorcycle while listening to Springsteen so he can go out and ride Thunder Road or Highway Nine (chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected . . . ) or something. It just doesn't sit easily in the pit of the stomach. Wells is nearly nausea-inducing.
Cochrane isn't anywhere in the same category, maybe because he's British and understated and we only have to deal with a paragraph or so of self-doubt every few chapters. In between, he sleuths around, stays alive, kills bad guys and ferrets out the truth, which is what we like about him. That, and Dunn's talent at writing about the nuts and bolts of spycraft, the dead-letter drops, brush passes and the like. I hope Dunn can keep walking this line in the sequels I hope keep coming.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Sentinel, a Spy Catcher novel by Matthew Dunn, doesn't offer anything new that audiences and readers have not seen in movies or in other novels of this genre. Of course, that in itself is not a condemnation since it is very difficult to find something new to offer plot-wise. You have a good guy, a bad guy and the bad guy has some nefarious design and the good guy has to stop him. The problem lies in the fact that Matthew Dunn doesn't say it as well as it's been said before by nearly everybody else I can think of.
You have to bow to his experience: he is former MI6 himself and with more than sufficient training to create a realistic and believable plot. The trouble is that his writing skills aren't up to the task of keeping pace with or doing just to that experience. The whole story seems amateurish, both in descriptions and - especially - in dialogue. The plot is also weak and not quite believable.
The protagonist is Will Cochrane, a special agent known as Spartan, supposedly the deadliest agent the West possesses, is sent into Russia in response to a cryptic message that says only, "He has betrayed us and wants to go to war." In Where Eagles Day Fashion, Cochrane has two bosses, one of whom is named Alistair (as in Alistair MacLean, the author of Where Eagles Dare). This fact-finding mission unleashes a chain of events that escalates with every encounter. This is a good thing in fiction, this sense of escalation and rising stakes, but for one problem.
And here I must issue a spoiler alert. If you don't wish to know anymore, or you like to waste your money on subpar thrillers, stop here. But I will say I told you so up front.
Cochrane comes across as a cross between Jason Bourne (his ruthless training is very similar) and Jack Bauer. He is definitely not a womanizer like James Bond, which as far as I am concerned is his only redeeming feature. But he suffers by comparison with Bourne, who comes across as far more deadly and efficient, even without his memory; and like Jack Bauer he can't secure a perimeter to save his soul. If you are looking for a espionage thriller protagonist, there are better examples out there.
The antagonist is a Russian Spetznaz colonel known as Razin. Razin, sadly, like Rasputin, is seemingly un-killable. He is also seemingly in possession of a crystal ball, or maybe one of the lost seeing stones of Numenor. I stuck with Cochrane through the first half but by the time I was halfway through the book, and had seen Razin best Will Cochrane time after time, fighting him to a standstill and outwitting him on each and every occasion they tussle, I had begun to lose interest.
No matter what Cochrane does, no matter how clever he tries to be, Razin is better. And yes, this is written into the novel when Cochrane begins to doubt himself. But an author has to be careful how he does this. You shouldn't make the reader root for the bad guy but to be honest, he seemed far more interesting.
I tried to rationalize it. I thought maybe there is a traitor telling Razin what Cochrane has planned, but even when Cochrane wings it, telling nobody what he has planned, Razin outwits him. What's worse is, even after being outwitted, Cochrane doesn't spend any time thinking about what Razin might do in reaction to what he has planned, how he might try to counter it. He just seems to assume Razin will do what he wants him to do.
I like a formidable antagonist, but this is ridiculous. And stories where the bad guy is smarter and more skilled than the good guy tend to get real old real fast. Die Hard's John McLane is compelling because he rises above his training to take on a foe that outnumbers and outguns him. But Will Cochrane can't seem even to rise to his level of training let alone exceed it when the chips are down.
If you write a story about a team of elite operators, the operators should come across not as cannon fodder - a Star Trek away team comes to mind - but as skilled soldiers/assassins. If the bad guy goes through them like a hot knife through butter, they begin to seem less elite.
I suppose if it's done right, it might make the antagonist more frightening but it doesn't work that way here. The good guys just don't come across as competent. And the characterizations, probably due to Dunn's limitations as a writer, aren't compelling enough to compensate for the flaws in the story. Good descriptions and a compelling dialogue might not have been enough to save the novel but they might at least have made me care enough to keep reading - and hoping that it would get better.
But even then, I didn't find the plot believable. I suppose it's entirely possible Razin is insane, but then why don't the good guys think his plot is insane? They seem to take it seriously.
I understand that Cochrane and his fellow operators have to stop a war from starting but there should at least be some acknowledgment that the bad guy is nuts. I can't believe the thought would not cross their minds at some point - the master plan doesn't seem plausible to me and I don't understand why it seems so plausible to the characters in the story.
I cannot recommend this book because there is nothing in the book to recommend itself, neither writing, nor plot, nor characterizations. And if you're looking for descriptions of weapons and equipment, you're better off sticking to David Morrell, Bob Mayer, or Marcus Wynne (just for starters), who are also far better writers in every respect.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2012
I found SENTINEL: A SPYCATCHER NOVEL to be more of a chore than anything. While the plot, in the context of the book makes sense (sort of!), I found it mostly illogical from a real world standard--as in "who in their right mind would make something so simple be so complicated?" If this is the way real world secret-agents work their devious plots, it's no wonder they never get anything accomplished! At one point, Will, the main character, decides to wire himself and his female russian agent friend for communication WHILE they're driving down the road tailing one of the bad guys! If you knew you were setting out for a multi-person tail of a suspect, wouldn't you KNOW you might want to communicate with each other BEFOREHAND and do that before you left the hotel? EGAD!
Now, in fairness, I can enjoy a story that doesn't make a whole lot of real world sense, but unfortunately, SENTINEL was saddled with way too detailed, way too formal and way too wooden dialogue. I found it so bothersome that I was never able to get involved with the book. It became a chore to force myself to continue reading as I counted how many pages to go. All the action and excitement was sucked right out of the plot by the ridiculously formal and detailed dialogue.
If you were chasing the bad guy in a car, would you say "go faster, don't lose him!" or would you say "accelerate our vehicle to 120MPH and maintain our following distance of the car we are chasing at 125 feet so that we can keep the car we are following within our visual radius!" (NOT an actual quote from the book, but a generalized idea of the type of dialogue you'll find.) If you like the latter, then you'd probably like this book. If not, I'd say look elsewhere for some entertainment.
Details? You'll find a super-abundance of those! But, do we really need to know that Will, our hero, is holding his "QBZ95-G assault rifle" while driving by the "RT-2UTTKh intercontinental missle" in a low-mileage, rust free Toyota SUV Korina inherited from her now deceased father? Do I care that there are two cows and three goats standing in the field they're passing through? Or that the paratrooper hadn't shaved in three days? Just WAY TOO MANY, INCONSEQUENTIAL DETAILS that have absolutely no bearing on the story, but merely serve to interrupt your train of thought.
Ditto that for the bone-jarring profanity dropped in occasionally, for no other purpose apparently than to spice up the dialogue.
After reading 250 pages, I was eagerly looking forward to the end of this book. NOT because I was anticipating the exciting end (which wasn't), but because I couldn't wait to move on to something else. YAY! Only 30 more pages! WOO HOO! Only 20 to go! HOT-DIGGITY! It's the last chapter!
It took me almost two weeks to wade through the 308 pages of SENTINAL. By comparison, I whizzed through 160 pages of the book I started minutes after finishing this one in just 4 hours! That should give you some idea of how lackluster I found SENTINEL. Some books are hard to put down. This one was hard to pick up again once you put it down!
I really can't recommend SENTINEL. More of a chore than anything. TWO STARS. The plot is OK, but the construct just doesn't cut it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2013
I always enjoy a good spy novel, and really don't expect too much, but COME ON! Pathetic attempt!
Virtually every decision the 'super spy' protagonist makes is wrong. The bad guy is always four steps ahead and apparently able to read the minds of everyone else so that he is there hours ahead of time to foil plans, able to approach to within hand to hand combat range even though his opponents (highly trained and skilled operatives in their own right) are armed with a handgun, able to 'twist and dodge the bullet', and (spoiler alert!) able to kill every one of the 'tier-1' agents in Russia before they can be saved by the Sentinel! Oh, and we are really supposed to believe that the Sentinel has been able to recruit as his agents over a dozen of Russia's elite military officers - including Generals?!
Please, there is not one part of this book that is believable and the MOST unbelievable part is that I went ahead and read the whole thing because I paid 10 bucks for it. Lesson learned!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This book is the story of a double agent who wants to start a war between Russia and the West by exploding a nuclear device in Barent sea. Will is the British MI6 superagent who is sent to thwart Russsian superspy Razin, in cohoots with CIA.
I found this novel full of improbable MI6, CIA and Russian double agent encounters with lot of weapon and military jargon. The Russian agent Razin survives all encounters until the end when Will, the MI6 superagent had so many opportunities to kill him before that. Every scene in Russia has snow! Cars and weapons appear miraculously wherever the superspy Will happens to be.
This novel did not absorb my attention because the stories and scenes seem unrealistic and preposterous
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2013
This is the first Spycatcher novel I’ve read by this new author. I studied the back inside cover and the photo of him looks familiar, yet going through my reviews, I don’t have anything on him. The only other title on his resume, so far, is his first novel Spycatcher, which I know I haven’t read. It must be that I’ve checked this book out before, enough times that his image became cemented in my head, yet I never picked it up until now.
I’m glad I did.
The story is full of real-world intrigue and thrills, written by someone who knows his business. Though this is a fictitious story, the set pieces and situations are made realistic by the author’s extensive background. As a writer myself, I’ve always worked by the mantra, write what you know, and in this case, the story is far more powerful because Mr. Dunn did just that.
Our hero travels in and out of Russia amidst a dizzying array of tongue-twisting Slavic-named places, acronyms and people. There were times when the story almost bogged down with overwhelming minutiae on the inner workings of Russian, British and American spy organizations, but in the end, it added more realism as the author broke the potential for tedium with another action sequence.
The intrigue never ended, the twists kept coming, and our hero almost didn’t pull it off, right until the final surprise twist at the end. It kept me glued to my seat, wondering what was going to happen next.
He painted such a cold and dreary environment of Russia that I never want to set foot there! I’m sure the detailed descriptions, parsed out amidst the action and dialogue, are based on his personal experience, which gives it all a high level of validity.
The writing is solid third-person with no head-hopping that I could find, which made for a fast, easy and glued-to-my-chair read. This story was a real pleasure and I’m glad I finally broke down and picked it up.
Very well done and highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
No matter how many good writers there are in a genre, there's always room for more. In the category of spy thrillers, Matthew Dunn is trying to break into those ranks; he's not quite there yet.
The back-of-the-book biography of Dunn describes him as an ex-MI6 field officer who did all sorts of covert operations and conducted around 70 missions, all successfully. It may be true, it may just be a fantasy to make his writing seem more credible: either way, I would expect his work to be more realistic and less over-the-top, a la James Bond. This lack of realism occurred in his first novel, Spycatcher and continues into its sequel (and the subject of this review) Sentinel.
Realism may be overrated, however, and I like a bit of suspend-your-disbelief action. What I don't like are plots that seem routine, such as this one. In this book, Will Cochrane, a superspy from a secretive government program called Spartan, is called in when MI6 assets in Russia start getting killed. The man behind the killings is an ambitious Russian supersoldier known as Razin who is intent on starting war.
Cochrane teams up with his Spartan program predecessor, a man known as Sentinel who now operates under deep cover recruiting agents for MI6, the same agents that Razin is now killing as part of his scheme. Cochrane's job is to kill Razin, and most of the book involves Cochrane setting up a trap, Razin eluding it, and then repeating the cycle over and over again.
Although Dunn can write good action and suspense sequences, this redundancy in plotting keeps this book from being anything but average. Beyond this problem is the fact that, in certain ways, this book seems to be a rehash of the first novel, making certain plot twists seem predictable rather than surprising. Matthew Dunn may have been a great spy, but he still has work to do before he can produce something beyond a generic thriller.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This novel is an updated version of the classic cold war spy thriller. It has exotic locales including East European cities and characters with names in non-English font. A device that was extensively used in Clancy's first techno-thriller Red Storm Rising, reproducing a note in hand-writing-like font. True to that genre, there are weapon model numbers and military and espionage acronyms that one can look up in the glossary in the back. The author also uses Robert Parker's device of including a chicken recipe that the hero cooks for his beloved. Like all thrillers, the good guys are super humanly determined, strong and valiant, the bad guys are psychotic and ruthless. There is the obligatory sex scene. The full extent of character development is the recurring theme of the hero regrets sacrificing a personal life for his work. The novel is devoid of any James Bond personalization tidbits such as the hero "having a cruel look" and preferring martinis that are "shaken, not stirred."
The storyline is based on the 1983 US military exercise "Able Archer." The Soviets believed that that exercise was the cover for a real nuclear attack by the US. The author fictionalized "Able Archer" but made no references to it. Wish the author had followed the spy thriller genre method and spent more of the novel's 300+ pages on even fictional historical perspective instead of syncopating the pace with picayune stage directions.
I love the spy techno-thriller genre so I enjoyed this retro experience, nevertheless.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I was so prepared to like this book...after all, a real life spy writing a spy novel...seriously, what could be better than that? Apparently almost anything.
This book was absolutely excrutiating to read. By the first chapter, it became apparent that the author took pain-staking (emphasis on pain) with getting every single solitary, miniscule movement "just right". It's a bit like trying to translate what a mime is doing by description alone...only this isn't a mime but a spy. Still, the entire emphasis was on describing...in excessive, tedious detail...every movement, flicker of the finger, deep sigh and step of a spy. Oh yeah, there may have been a story in there as well but frankly, about halfway into the book the constant emphasis on describing the every move, slightly difference in a scene etc took away all enjoyment.
Excrutiatingly painful. Descriptions are wonderful IF they are relevant but this drags the story along. It slows it down to a death spiral and sucks every bit of life out of what could possibly have been a good story if it had been allowed to live. AVOID if you are adverse to spending hours of your life wasted on reading the equivalent of a kinetic blow by blow account.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
There are three central characters in this novel and they are protrayed in an unrealistic and unbelievable manner. They can take punishment beyond imagination and then they can get up and chase the bad guys or drive a car. No recovery time needed for these characters. Cars and money abound and James Bond is in danger from these characters they have so much more skill than he does. Details were inconsistent, for example, miles and kilometers were interchanged but the money remained European. This was for the time they needed money which was infrequent because they were taken care of by those they encountered. The plus for this book is the ending which has a great twist that was not predicted.