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Winter Games Paperback – April 10, 2008
Books with Buzz
"Killers of the Flower Moon" is a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history. See more
About the Author
John Lacombe lives and works in Chicago. Winter Games is his first novel. When he's not hard at work on Games' sequel, John enjoys the latest releases in literature, cinema, and music--and breathlessly follows the travails of his beloved Northwestern Wildcats.
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Top Customer Reviews
Looking forward to what Lacombe does next.
The writing style is clear and descriptive (but not long-winded), so you feel like you're a part of the action. When the story ended, I came away feeling satisfied that loose ends had been tied up, but excited to read more.
I look forward to Lacombe's 2nd book.
Many self-published thrillers fail because they're boring. The author has a topic they find interesting, or a great premise, but no idea how to turn that into a novel. "Winter Games" is certainly not one of those books. Clearly informed by the rhythms of Hollywood and high-concept episodic television such as "Prison Break" and "24", John Lacombe's novel grabs you from the outset. It was page 91 before I looked up.
The scenario is outrageous, but that's just what the genre demands. Suspension of disbelief is required - and rewarded. It's an opportunity for readers to project themselves into an imaginary world, and this is one of hi-tech espionage, global drug networks, black ops, comic books, and ninja-like operatives who pick fights with grizzly bears for kicks. It has the kind of fun, page-turning intensity you need in this genre. Lacombe has clearly read plenty of these kind of novels and he knows how they work. It's all action and anticipation - begin 'in medea res', reveal just enough for the reader to understand what's going on, but hold back enough that they want to keep reading. As James Cameron once said of writing movies: "Every scene should answer a question, and raise a new one you want answered, too..." On that score, Lacombe really delivers.
The writing style is clear and efficient, but Lacombe also understands the music of language. He knows how the rhythm of it can propel you across the page. Exposition is kept to a minimum. Where it is eventually required, it's mostly delivered through dialogue and in scenes that also advance the action, so Lacombe has clearly thought about how to deploy it. Some of these scenes are long and the exposition a little too wordy, but they often segue into action-packed flashbacks which "show" more than they "tell", which is satisfying. It's mercifully free of the awkward phrasing and endless typos that plague so many self-published novels. My virtual editor's pencil was hovering, but was rarely put to use. There's the odd overuse of adjectives, but on the whole this is the clean, workmanlike language you expect in an action-thriller and it really is a pleasure to read.
I was pleased, too, to discover there's quite a bit going on here thematically. Without wanting to spoil the story, it involves the global drug trade, super-soldier training programs, the ethics of US and North Korean government agencies, and one very smart American kid. At one point that kid, Eric Sutton, utters, "Screw freedom. I have power." At different times, this may well have been the battle cry of both the US and North Korea. While the novel never aims to be an incisive political analysis of the two nations, it does draw some comparisons between their global ambitions, motives and methods. There's also a really nice subtext about people being unable to overcome the life for which they were either born or made. I think a little more could have been made of Eric's character and family background, in this regard. His achievements are quite incredible, but I had an easier time buying those achievements than his rather cold motives. I wanted more. It would've made the novel a richer experience. But you can't judge a novel against an objective it didn't set out to achieve, and Lacombe has mostly exceeded the ones he obviously lined up here.
There are a few aspects that might benefit from a professional edit. First, two characters are named "Jeff" and they share many scenes together, so it's not always clear which one is speaking. This is compounded by an odd formatting error: where a character's speech runs over more than one paragraph, the closing quotation marks should be left off the end of all but the final paragraph. Here, the quotation marks are closed at the end of every paragraph of speech, so it often seems as if a second character has started speaking when it's actually a continuation of the first. This can be confusing. Secondly, things occasionally get a bit muddy in terms of structure. There are multiple flashbacks, and two scenes from the past are virtually identical though they happened three years apart. It's possible to get a little confused and this slows the pace. Finally, I mentioned earlier that suspension of disbelief is required. But sometimes things go too far. The ease and accuracy with which characters infer major parts of the backstory - inferences which are vitally necessary for the action to continue - is sometimes implausible.
In the final analysis, though, these aren't serious problems. Overall, this is a slick and solid action-thriller from an emerging writer of considerable strength. It shows a confident grasp of storytelling technique, genre requirements (including the tickler for a sequel!) and superb imagination. It's polished and professional work, and I imagine it was only knocked back by mainstream publishers because the thriller is such an incredibly competitive field.
Oh well, their loss is our gain. "Winter Games" is a mighty fine read. And John Lacombe is a talent to watch.