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Far Fetched but Entertaining
on January 27, 2014
Alex Lukeman's White Jade, the first book in a series about a secret government agency known as the Project, is a far fetched but generally entertaining action/adventure thriller. The Project is an elite counter terrorist organization that can take direct, immediate action when the national interests are threatened... sort of like the CIA on steroids.
The national interest is definitely threatened here, as rogue Chinese agents plot to launch a major attack against the U.S. as part of an even larger conspiracy. The Project gets wind of their plans when they torture and kill a wealthy industrialist to get their hands on an ancient book in the tycoon's possession that supposedly contained directions to a remote location in Tibet where the secret of eternal life was hidden. The Chinese are after something else at that location, a supply of enriched uranium capable of multiplying their nuclear weapons capabilities tremendously. The book's hero, former battle-hardened Marine turned Project operative Nick Carter, teams up with the dead man's niece, Selena Connor, who happens to be an expert in ancient languages and can help translate the book. Together, the two try to stop the Chinese plot.
There's a lot of action in the book, as you might expect, and Lukeman handles the assorted car chases, brawls, and shootouts quite well. In addition, the good guys wind up doing an Indiana Jones impersonation when they find the remote location referred to in the book and have to make their way through a variety of booby traps en route to some startling discoveries. It's all pure hokum, but I could easily suspend any sense of disbelief and had a good time throughout much of the book.
I had a tougher time suspending disbelief at some amazing logical howlers in the book, such as the thought that trained Chinese agents would try to kidnap Selena to find out what she knows by staging a high speed car crash on a major interstate just outside Washington, DC, in the hopes she would survive the crash... or that the fallout from the resulting chase and crash, which resulted in totaling a number of civilian vehicles and several dead bodies, would not make front page news all over the country. Nor could I accept the Chinese characters, who are poorly drawn stereotypes, practically drooling at the thought of having their way with American women, who act as if they are auditioning for the role of Fu Manchu in a community theater production.
As long as Lukeman keeps his focus on the two main characters and their travails, the book works very well. Carter is given a lot of emotional baggage in the form of a fiancée who died tragically that he has to work through during the book, and Selena is a feisty original. It's only when Lukeman expands his canvas, to the stock Chinese villains and the large scale political intrigue that occurs in both the U.S. and China, that he loses his focus. The last part of the book, in which the U.S. president has to work with Chinese officials to stop a war, should have been a powerful climax but, instead, was a bit of a letdown after Carter's frenetic activity in the previous pages.
First novels are rarely perfect, and White Jade is no exception. However, the flaws in the book... the stock, ridiculous villains, the annoying lack of logic in places, and the tepid political intrigue can be improved. Lukeman's back story of the long lost temple where the secret of eternal life is located (which, after a fashion, Carter finds out does exist) is the sort of highly imaginative backdrop for a thriller that makes for a entertaining, albeit farfetched story. Add some genuinely exciting action scenes and a likable main couple to that premise, and you have a good, entertaining but undemanding escapist read.