Saturday, July 22, 2017

Black Harvest - Alex Lukeman

   2012; 229 pages.  Book 4 (out of 14) of “The Project” series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Action Thriller.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    Three experts on crop viruses, including one who worked for the CDC (Center for Disease Control) are murdered in a very short time.  Someone apparently thinks they knew too much about something, and it seems to concern what’s written on some cuneiform inscriptions on some ancient clay tablets.

    This all happened here in the US, and there's some evidence that the killers have ties to the CIA and the Pentagon.  So who ya gonna call?

    No, not Ghostbusters.  How about a secret group called “The Project”, a black ops intelligence unit that answers directly to the President?  Sounds like a plan.

    But this time, they may be in over their clandestine heads.  Whoever is behind these killings semms to know the Project’s every move, even before they take a step.

What’s To Like...
    Black Harvest is an action-thriller, kind of in the Jason Bourne style, but with the emphasis on the team, not the individual.  There’s also a history/mythology angle like you'd find in a Steve Berry novel, but that peters out rather quickly.  Still, it was neat to see Alexander the Great, and the Greek goddess Demeter worked into the storyline, to say nothing of the cuneiform tablets.  I had never heard of “Erinys”, the vengeful aspect of Demeter.  I also enjoyed learning the origin of the word “nightmare”.

    The action starts right away and the pacing is incredibly fast.  There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but I have a feeling that the Americans are all recurring ones.  The good guys are developed nicely, but all the Russians are portrayed as goons, even the women.

    Some of the setting are way kewl.  Greece is always a treat for me, and when’s the last time you’ve read any book that had part of the story set in Bulgaria?  The Texas panhandle setting will bore most readers, but my company had several chemical plants there, which I visited numerous times, so it was sort of nostalgic to “see” the area once again in this story.

    There’s a bunch of cussing, a bunch of sex, and one case of torture, so you probably don’t want little Suzy and Jimmy reading this.  The chapters are of “James Patterson” length, so you’ll always find a convenient place to stop reading for the night.  Indeed, the 229 pages are split into 69 chapters; so on the average, there’s a break every 3 pages or so.

    This is only a “semi-standalone” novel.  The ending was so-so, as it leaves a slew of loose major plot threads, involving things like containing the blight, Korov’s possible turning, and AEON.  Some of these, especially AEON, may be resolved in the next book in the series, but then I have to wonder why they weren’t combined into a single book.

    Gelashvili had risen to power in the criminal underworld of Moscow by emulating his idol and fellow Georgian, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, otherwise known as Stalin.  If Zviad suspected treachery, someone died.  If someone failed to carry out their assigned tasks, they died.  If someone opposed him, they died.  Something could always be done to encourage motivation.  (loc. 377)

   “This sucks, Kemo Sabe.”
    “Kemo Sabe?  You going native on me?”
    “I always wanted to say that.  Tonto always said that to the Lone Ranger when the shit was about to hit the fan.  Kemo Sabe.  Has a nice ring to it.”
    “What does it mean?”
    “You don’t want to know.”  (loc. 1463)

Kindle Details...
    Black Harvest sells for $3.99 at Amazon.  Most of the other books in the series sell for $4.99, and Book 1, White Jade, and which I haven’t read, is free.  Alex Lukeman also has two non-fiction books available, about the meaning of dreams and nightmares, which both sell for $9.99.

 Not many people could recite Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon.  Not many would want to.  (loc. 158)
    There were quibbles besides the dangling plot threads.  Some of them were WTF’s, such as the Pentagon’s computers seeming to be incredibly easy to hack into.  Also, Ronnie is a Navajo, yet has no qualms about crawling around in a crypt.  Sorry, I know several Navajos.  There’s no way they’d be caught in a room full of dead people’s bones.

    More serious is the lack of focus in the storyline itself.  Our heroes start out trying to solve the mystery of the ancient tablets and fighting the evil Russkies.  But the latter gets resolved about a third of the way through, and the historical intrigue of the former just kind of evaporates into thin air.  The Russian baddies are replaced by American baddies, who are again quickly disposed of, and after that, the new evil peeps are the mysterious AEON folks.

    There is an antidote for the virus, but I don’t recall it ever being clear that the good guys acquired it.  Indeed the whole raid on the Utah facility is little more than a small side story.  And funnily enough, of the three onstage Ultimate Evils (one Russian, two American), none of them are dispatched by our intrepid heroes.

    But maybe I’m overthinking all of this.  The bottom line is: Black Harvest was an entertaining book from the first page to the last, ideal for a day at the beach or for an airplane trip.  Just remember to put the analytical lobe of your brain on hold when you go to start reading it.

    7 Stars.  Add 1 Star if you like Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series.  I overthink those stories too.

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