Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: The Deadfall Project by Brett James (4/5)

Have you ever read a novel that seemed tailor made for the media cyclone of current events?  Ever read a work of fiction that deftly tapped into the fears and machinations of an entire country?  Ever read one that did all of that three years ahead of time?  Well the 2009 thriller The Deadfall Project is just that book.  In a time when tensions with Iran and North Korea seem to be coming to a head, The Deadfall Project explores what could happen if it were proven that such a rogue state had obtained a nuclear bomb and intended to use it.  The author of this timely novel is Brett James, a filmmaker and author from San Francisco, California.  James was kind enough to sit down to discuss a mashup of literature, politics, and publishing, which you can find here.  As for the book, it goes a little something like this:

Grey Stark, an aging CIA company man, is a relic from the cold war (and the proud owner of a name worth of a James Bond villain).  He was once the station chief in Berlin, the single-most active region for espionage after WW II.  He was also the mastermind behind the bloodiest operation against the Soviets of the cold war.  In spite of this legacy—or perhaps because of it—he’s been sidelined in France for the last dozen years.  Nothing ever happens in France.  All of the real work is in the Middle East.  That’s where the action is.  The only thing for an aging CIA man to do in France is count the years until forced retirement.  That is, until a nuclear device is discovered planted beneath a Paris bank.  All signs point to an Iranian terrorist group as the culprits, which immediately ratchets up tensions between the U.S., it’s allies, and Iran.

It quickly becomes evident to Grey that things aren’t as they seem.  The Iranian connection seems tenuous, and he finds out that the bomb was none other than the infamous Deadfall Project.  Back when he was station chief in Berlin, scores of agents on both sides of the wall died trying to keep the plans for the Deadfall device out of Soviet hands.  Grey used a car to run down a Russian agent in the middle of no man’s land to retrieve the last copy of the plans and burned them himself.  A newly minted NATO intelligence agency has also taken over the investigation and seems hell bent on following the Iranian link.  With his soon-to-be-ex-wife by his side (James really stacks the deck against this guy, doesn’t he?) Grey turns to some of his old nemeses from the Cold War to try to find out where the bomb could have come from. 

But it’s never as simple as all that.  If it was, we wouldn’t have nearly as good of a storey.  Complications arise when Grey’s attempts to reach out to the Russian agents get him noticed by his own intelligence people.  His previous involvement with the Deadfall Project implicates him further, and soon enough he finds himself caught up in a frame designed to paint him as a traitor.  Add to that a mysterious hitman trying to kill him at every turn, a world marching inexorably to war, and a wife he can’t decide to whether to kiss or to throttle, and Grey finds himself in one hell of a mess. 

The book couldn’t be more perfect for today’s political climate.  It seems as though hardly an hour goes by on the 24 hour news channels that there isn’t some mention of Iran or its nuclear ambitions.  Israel wants to bomb he crap out of them, the U.S. and NATO want to sanction them into obedience, and the rest of the world wants to bury its head in the sand.  And there’s no shortage of U.S. politicians spoiling for a fight with them either.  These bozos would have us kick off World War III (and rest assured, that’s what it would be given how the Russians and Chinese feel about it), and then celebrate with strippers and champagne.  That’s one of the reasons I’m so happy Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican primary.  All that hawkish rhetoric made me want to leap through the TV and strangle him every time I saw his ugly mug.  And yeah, I know I’m getting off topic, but it goes a long way to describe why the author’s foresight is so amazing.  It was published three years ago (written some time before that, I’m sure), and still it manages to encompass some of the most pressing fears of the current geopolitical climate.  That, or maybe the political dialogue just hasn’t changed that much in the last three years. 

As far as the writing itself, the things that stood out to me the most were the metaphors and the imagery.  James is extremely gifted in this regard.  He paints his characters and scenes vividly, so much so that I could easily picture them in my mind’s eye.  And the French settings and landmarks are cast such amazing detail that I could easily imagine myself there.  Reading The Deadfall Project was very much like watching a movie—which makes sense, given the author’s history as a film maker.  But more than that, he uses a plethora of artful metaphors to punctuate his descriptions, lending them power and poignancy they would not have had otherwise.  I can tell James spent a lot of time and effort in crafting his metaphors, and it was time well spent.

The characters, on the other hand, are par for the course when it comes to your typical thriller.  That’s not to say they’re bad.  They’re quite good, they just fit the mold we readers have come to expect from our Ludlum-esque thrillers.  Honestly, The Deadfall Project is just as good as any of your typical mass market thrillers on the best seller’s list.  The plot moves quickly with plenty of action to keep the reader engaged, and the tone and style of the book are at once easily understood and complex enough to add a measure of depth to the narrative.  The main character does seem ridiculously indestructible, though.  He survives two car crashes (during one of which he bails out of the car going 100 miles per hour), a fractured arm (which later becomes a full-fledged break), broken ribs, a knife wound in the thigh, a triple-tap to the chest from a .45 (OK, he was wearing a kevlar vest, but you get my point), a gunshot to the shoulder, another knife in the leg, and still manages to dispatch the baddie in one last ditch effort.  And did I mention the irate almost-ex-wife?  Yeah, there is no kryptonite for this guy.  But then again, with all those people trying their damnedest to kill him, I guess it’d require an even bigger suspension of disbelief if he didn’t get a royal beating or two along the way.

Whatever minor flaws the novel might have, they don’t at all detract from its core message, the idea that one man can make a difference in the political dog and pony show that sends nations to war.  Through his novel James subtly indicts previous regimes for their trumped up justifications for armed conflict and simultaneously offers a cautionary message against the repetition of those same mistakes in the rising conflict with Iran and other “rogue nations.”  Overall I give The Deadfall Project four out of five stars.


15 comments:

  1. Sounds like I'd enjoy this novel a bit more than I enjoyed John Le Carre. However, like you, I'm not a fan of film-like qualities in a novel, especially when they far surpass my suspension of disbelief.

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    1. You didn't like le Carre? Aww... I really like the Smiley novels. Some of his later works (Our Kind of Traitor comes to mind) were a miss, but classic le Carre is one of my favorites. Oh well, to each their own, right?

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  2. hey Jonathan, nice one. I always like your reviews both here and on LT. I would, however, take out that bit about the vest. The manufacturer of an early vest (might have been Second Chance) used to shoot himself with a 44 Magnum at arm's length to prove the vest's efficacy. The way a vest works is to deflect the energy of the bullet and that combined with the much larger mass of a human torso are no match for the tiny mass of a bullet no matter how fast it is going. People wearing vests who get hit rarely even notice. Check out that bank robbery video from 1987 and you can see the bad guys wearing homemade body armor and they just keep shooting. Bruising and abrasion can happen from the way the vest twists with the impact of the projectile, but no one gets broken sternums or ribs. Anyway...cheers!

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    1. Yeah, it looks like my info was wrong on that count. I'll have to go back and make the necessary modifications. Thanks for keeping me straight, Kris.

      Oh, and nice to have met you. Or have I already met you? What's your name on LT? If I haven't already friended you, I'll be sure to do it. And you just got a new follower on your blog. I likee. ;)

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  3. not deflect...disperse. gah!!!!

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  4. Glad you didn't get all bent around the axle about my comment...sometimes it's hard to judge. Anyway, I'm Bookmarque on LT. And thanks for the blog follow. I really need to be more active on book blogs and put up some links.

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    1. Oh cool, I know who you are now. Thanks for popping by the blog. And no worries--if I'm dead wrong about something I'd rather be corrected than go on spewing false information.

      As far as book blogs go, I maintain a pretty decent presence, but it's a lot of work and I'm not sure how worth it is. But hell, I have to spend my time on something. Why not this?

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  5. Sounds like a great read. I didn't know this book, but it goes straight to the top of my to-read-list.
    Your description of Grey Stark reminded me of Jack Bauer from 24. I love ridiculously indestructible characters.

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    1. LOL, they're a lot of fun aren't they? Especially when they manage to dispatch the baddie at the end in a particularly inventive manner. Like with that movie The Last Boy Scout. the bad guy can't just get shot. And he can't simply get shot and take a hundred foot fall off a catwalk. No, he has to get shot, take a hundred foot fall off a catwalk, and land in the whirling blades of a helicopter rotor. 80s action movies at their finest, baby!

      But in all seriousness, you should check out the author's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/The-Deadfall-Project/122693353621) or hell, I can give you the publicist's number. He might be able to hook you up with a review copy if you plan to review the book on your blog. I mean, it can't hurt to ask, right? Just let me know.

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    2. 80s action movies are great. I have heard of this movie, but I've never watched it.

      Thanks, but between the two book fairs that are here in the next two months and library trips and the few NetGalley books I still haven't reviewed I probably have enough for a few months.

      By the way, I don't know if you know these two web pages, but you may like them:
      http://www.spyguysandgals.com/ This is about spy fiction with lists of characters and authors.
      http://detectivesdelibro.blogspot.com/p/mapa.html This one is in Spanish, but it has a map of the world and if you click in each spot you can see which detective series take place there. I don't know if you speak any Spanish but the only words you need to know are personaje (character) and autor (author) and you can google the names.

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    3. Oh wow, those are really cool sites. I'm going to have to bookmark them for later. Thanks, Hellen!

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  6. I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the hottest virtual strippers on my desktop.

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