Next up on the chopping block is another NetGalley title. This one is called The Helius Legacy, and it was written by S. Alexander O'Keefe. It's a thriller, and the plot goes a little something like this:
An evil organization of evil decides it needs to pick on some of the little people for one reason or another. Some people die, but one of said people being picked on turns out to be a ex-military or a kooky survivalist or a hot-as-lava computer hacker who puts up a fight. More people die, there are some car chases and maybe a narrow escape or two from death's bony clutches. In the midst of all that adrenalin-pumping action a love interest blossoms (sometimes inexplicably), and the ever-present danger makes the two lovebirds cleave even closer to one another. After a few more harrowing escapes and perhaps a climactic battle or two, eventually the big bad is vanquished through wit and brawn and good old fashioned determination, and then everyone lives happily ever after.
Sound familiar? It should. That's pretty much the same plot of just about every other conspiracy/thriller novel out there--The Da Vinci Code, The Firm, hell, just about every book Robert Ludlum ever wrote. It's enough to make a man sick. And if the writing is sub-par or lackluster, then it's almost unpalatable. Do I have go to on? I'm sure you can already tell that I didn't like it. But alas, I do have to go on. The reading public deserves an honest run-down of this thing, and there's no way to do it except by getting into the messy details. So on we go.
In this particular thriller the big bad organization happens to be an oil company called Helius Energy. The year is 1999, and an investigative journalist has pieced together enough information to prove that one of Helius' most profitable properties (and the profits from the barrels and barrels of oil extracted from the property over the years) should in actuality belong to a man named John Caine, a veritable hermit living in the California mountains. Caine is an orphan, the only survivor of an entire family line that was exterminated back in the 1920s by the ancestors of Helius' CEO, Carter Mason. Upon learning of the journalist's discovery, Mason follows the family tradition and has him killed. He then sends his professional goon squad off to find anyone else the reporter might have blabbed to. Target number one his lawyer friend, Andrea Marenna. Target number two is John Caine himself... who just so happens to be a retired special forces operative for the French Foriegn Legion. Convenient, no? After a failed attempt on his life (in which he mind-bogglingly shoots down a helicopter with a shotgun), he flies to Austin in time to foil an attempted hit on Andrea, and the two of them are off and running for their lives. Several narrow escapes ensue, and then Andrea is captured by the Helius goon squad. Helius tries to sucker Caine into coming to rescue her, and he does... along with four of his ex-special forces buddies, who rescue the girl and blow the goon squad to kingdom come. After that point, Caine and Andrea decide to bring in the Feds, clear their names, and bring Carter Mason to justice. There's some legal finegaling, a lot of head-butting with a bitchy U.S. Attourney, and another attempt from the Helius hit squad, but all is set right in the end. Caine gets his cash money, Mason goes to jail, and he and Andrea get it on after professing their undying love to one another.
I tried hard to like this one. I really did. I said to myself, "self, you know you got this book for free from those nice folks at NetGalley. Maybe you should try to write a positive review this time." And myself replied, "Bump that! This thing is a warmed over turd sandwich. We need to light up a fire for this one, that's what we need to do!"
What can I say? Myself can be an a-hole at times. But while The Helius Legacy isn't a turd sandwich exactly (if we're being honest here, completely sans hyperbole), it isn't good either. For one the plot has been done to death before. And while the basic plots have been acted out since time immemorial (Hero's Journey, anyone?), a book can tell the same story and still be innovative if new twists or slants are applied to the same basic plot, or if the cast of characters is particularly interesting, or if there's some snappy dialogue to tie everything together. There was none of that here. The characters were also predictable and utterly flat, fitting in with the archetypal molds you'd come to expect from a cheesy action flick. Plus, the writing simply wasn't that good. Oh, it was competent all right, but it was the kind of competency you'd expect from a mid-level English student, not from a published writer. The prose had no flair, no panache. You can have a lackluster story and still win me over if the writing is sharp and witty, if you describe things in new ways, or use especially inventive metaphors. Mr. O'Keefe did none of that.
One thing almost saved the book for me. Almost. And that was the fact that the storyline touched on something near and dear to my heart--corporate dystopia. It's an element essential in any good cyberpunk novel: corporations run amok, comercialism at its worst, common people held in thrall by organizations who suck them dry of money and life and their very souls. I mean come on, what's not to like? But The Helius Legacy didn't touch on any of that. The big bad corporation was just a vehicle with which to heap death and destruction on the hero and in turn give him someone to whoop up on. O'Keefe didn't even go into an Occupy Wallstreet-esque rant about the abuse of wealth and power by corporations. It was all so... disappointing.
I dunno, maybe I'm too critical. Maybe I'm a fool for expecting mindless entertainment to have a brain. Maybe. But I've seen the light, and I can't go back to the darkness. At least, I can't go back and not bitch about it for a thousand words or so. I suppose I've read too many good authors. Now I'm spoiled. Oh well. Can't change it now. Apologies to you, Mr. O'Keefe, for what I'm about to do. I know you probably poured a lot of time and effort into this tome, but I can't bring myself to pull any punches. Two stars.