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Customer Review

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too unbelievable for my tastes., January 31, 2012
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This review is from: Spycatcher (Spycatcher Novels) (Mass Market Paperback)
I had high expectations when I bought this novel, but low satisfaction by the time I finished reading it.

I really wanted to enjoy this story, and I was encouraged by all of the 4-star and 5-star ratings, but in the end I was disappointed. I expected at least a 4-star experience, but got a 2-star one. As they say, to each their own, but here are the reasons I felt this story didn't live up to anything higher than a 2-star rating:

1) Suspension of disbelief was difficult to swallow in the first chapter. I love reading political thrillers, spy thrillers, terrorism thrillers, and just about any kind of suspense thriller. What this means is that I have no difficulty whatsoever in suspending my disbelief for the enjoyment of the story. I not only want to believe the situations the author creates, but I look forward to suspending my disbelief so that I can immerse myself in the author's make-believe world. But, in my opinion, it is also the author's responsibility to make it at least feel that the situations could be real within the world s/he creates.

With all the above being said, Chapter 1 of Spycatcher taxed my suspension of disbelief beyond its limits. And once I lost faith in the author's ability to weave just a semblance of believability, I found myself questioning everything.

An "O. K. Corral" type shootout between four British Intelligence agents and twenty-three Iranian MOIS agents was, by itself, pushing the envelop beyond any semblance of belief. That this shootout took place in New York's Central Park was totally beyond believability. And suspension of disbelief completely went out the window when the main character started accurately shooting the bad guys in the head from sixty or more meters away with an H&K Mark 23 handgun.

Four against twenty-three was a bit over the top. Yes, the good guys lost, but barely. The author leaves you with the impression that the outcome of the shootout would have been different if only the good guys hadn't run out of ammunition. And then, later in the story, two-thirds of the way through Chapter 11, the author writes: "There were approximately fifteen soldiers ahead of them, so to stand and fight would have resulted in the capture or death of all three intelligence officers rather than one." It appears the author decided to change the rules of the game to suit his superhero protagonist. He fought 23 in Central Park and almost won single-handedly, but then backs off from 15 when he's got two excellent shooters with him.

And then there was the accuracy of the shooting. The H&K Mark 23 is a .45 caliber pistol, a very good weapon, the designated replacement for the legendary 1911A1. However, at 25 meters, the weapons accuracy, under controlled test conditions with the gun being held in an anchored fixture, produced a grouping variance of 1.44 inches. At fifty meters, that grouping would be more than 8-9 inches, which means that hitting someone's head at fifty meters, even with the gun mounted in a secured fixture to maximize accuracy and carefully aimed, would be impossible, a one in ten thousand shot. And in chapter one, the author tells us that the good guys, under pressure, hand holding their weapons, running, dodging, and even wounded, shoot and kill many of the bad guys from more than one hundred meters away, with the hero hitting all of his targets in the head. This accuracy would have been impossible. Based on the action in the scene, the weapon, and the shooting distances, the good guys would've been hard pressed to wound one bad guy with a lucky shot, let alone kill half of them. It's my feeling that if an author goes to the extent of identifying a specific weapon, then that author should also do enough research about that weapon to know its best use and its limitations.
Shooting a .45 caliber with a 230 grain hardball, at 100 yards, the round will drop 6-7 inches with no other atmospheric influences. Add a crosswind and heavy early morning air and the accuracy becomes even less. You don't have to do much research to discover that the accuracy of a .45 caliber handgun drops dramatically after 25 yards (22.86 meters). Being accurate at 50 yards (45.72 meters) requires proper breathing, proper gripping, and smooth trigger control - none of which are available when you're running and dodging bullets from an opposing force.

As one other reviewer said, "If you are looking for at least some realism in the story this may be too over-the-top for you." I would have to agree.

As another reviewer pointed out that the author's experience as a real agent in Britain's MI6 didn't appear to transfer to the story. I would also have to agree. I was expecting the author's experience to result in a realistic spy novel, but what I read was more comic book characters and fantastical, unbelievable action sequences.

2) Starting on page 178 of 418 (Kindle): The protagonist acquires a CZ 75 pistol from an enemy. It's a good handgun, no doubt, but then our hero, wounded and exhausted from running as fast as he could for more than 30 minutes, takes aim on a man standing 125 meters away. That's 137 yards, almost 1-1/2 football fields in length. And what does our hero do? He takes one shot which turns out to be a perfect head shot and instantly kills the guy. That's a head shot at 125 meters with a CZ 75 (a 9mm gun). In real life, he would've been lucky to even hit within 5 feet of the guy. In real life, a head shot with a CZ 75 would be possible from maybe 40 yards at maximum, and with the shooter taking careful aim and with controlled breathing.

Once again, the author's claimed expertise as being an ex-British intelligence agent doesn't seem to transfer to the written page. If he was an ex-agent, he would know the accuracy of these handguns.

3) Starting on page 204 of 418 (Kindle): The protagonist sends Julian Garces to conduct surveillance on an office building where it's suspected that the antagonist operates out of. At this point in the story, the protagonist doesn't know what the antagonist looks like. Twenty-one hours later, the protagonist is guided via radio by Garces, from a remote observation point, into the building and missing all surveillance cameras in the process. Garces has learned the building so well within that 21 hour time period that he is able to tell the protagonist exactly how many steps he has to make and how quickly he has to make them in order to avoid being caught on the building's surveillance cameras. Okay fine, maybe not totally believable, but I can live with that. But then, the very next day, when discussing the need to visually identify the antagonist, the protagonist specifically rules out the surveillance of the same building because he's afraid the bad guys would now spot the surveillance, even though they left no hints to the break-in the previous night. Huh? Why does covert surveillance work perfectly one day and then not the next? And this is in the days of hi-tech surveillance equipment, so it would seem quite easy to setup a remote, hidden camera and photograph everyone coming into and out of the building. It just seems that the author manipulates the plot twists in an illogical manner, and it makes the story difficult to enjoy.

4) Starting around page 313 of 418 (Kindle): The bad guys have decided to hole up in an isolated lakeside lodge on one of the Saranac Lakes in upstate New York. The five good guys are planning an assault on the cabin to save the femme fatale, capture the villain, and kill all of the villain's thugs. As the five good guys are planning their attack, it's noted that there are eight, armed bad guys surrounding the lodge, and they assume there are more bad guys inside the lodge. I almost stopped reading at this point. Why? Because these bad guys, up to this point in the story, have been presented as being some of the smartest, devious, one-step-ahead-of-you bad guys for our hero has ever encountered. But what do the bad guys do? They pick an isolated lodge in the middle of nowhere, and then put eight of their guys outside, with dense woods surrounding the lodge, no escape route, the lake on one side, etc. etc. It's like the bad guys have suddenly turned into the stupidest bad guys known to mankind, and have set-up a shooting gallery for the good guys to easily kill them. It's just more authorial artificial manipulation of the action. If the bad guys are going to be smart, then they need to stay smart. And then it gets even worse. Once the gun battle begins, twenty more bad guys suddenly show up, most of them wearing snow camouflage suits. They were, as best as I could figure out, hiding in the woods, waiting for the good guys to make an attack, but if that was true, then how did the good guys even get close to the lodge? Net-net, just a bunch of action that seemed very contrived.

5) Good guy swims sixty yards in freezing water wearing normal civilian clothes, and is instantly able to function as a dead-accurate sniper. Huh? Anybody ever heard of hypothermia? The author tells us the guy just ignored the cold. Yeah, right, like hypothermia is a mental thing.

6) I skimmed most of the last 10% of the story. There was way too much detail for my tastes about how the hero got from point A to point B at the Metropolitan, and then he didn't even find the bomber, the bomber found him. And the finale, turning Harry into an asset, was anticlimactic.

In summary, I think the publishers and/or the author did a poor job of pre-selling the story. They built up the author's real life experience as a real MI6 agent which led me (and apparently many other readers) to think his real life experience would show up on the pages in the novel. It didn't. In fact the details were so far from reality that it made me wonder if the author was a super hero comic book writer in his past life and not an MI6 agent.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 1, 2013 5:23:24 PM PDT
My compliments! Stephen Hunter and Bob Lee Swaggart (Bob the Nailer) could not have done a better assessment! I was ROTHLMAO!
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