Tag Archives: Matthew Reilly

Scarecrow Returns aka Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, Matthew Reilly

<em class="BookTitle">Scarecrow Returns</em> aka <em class="BookTitle">Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves</em>, Matthew Reilly

Pocket, 2013 reprint of 2012 original, 496 pages, ISBN C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 978-1-4165-7760-7

There are a few thousand reviews on this web site, and only a handful of them contain the word “escapism”.  Being mainly a fan of genre fiction, I think the word is not only derogatory to most readers, but based on false premises: genre fiction at its best should be a way to understand the world a bit better by studying how people behave under extraordinary circumstances.  But it’s also true that until recently, I simply did not understand the concept of escapism: Reading was a large part of my life and trying to escape from reading by reading led to irresolvable tautological conundrums.

Then life happened: I became a husband/father, took on more responsibilities, went on a reading semi-sabbatical and eventually realized that I hadn’t taken holidays in years, nor sat down to read a paperback from beginning to end in roughly as long.  Taking a week off for summer holidays “doing nothing around the house”, I build my schedule around a number of key activities such as “reading a paperback sitting outside”.  Stars aligned and I eventually found myself with some free time, a big jug of ice tea and favorable weather.

Of course, I picked a Matthew Reilly novel.  Reilly, after all, is the very model of a dependable genre writer: He delivers more or less the same kind of experience to his readers, book after book after book.  The Michael Bay of techno-thrillers, he builds his novels like videogames, high on action-movie set-pieces, a series of increasingly difficult levels, mapped-out settings and bare-bone characters largely distinguished by their call signs.  Reilly may not be deep or literary, but he is clever and astonishing good at what he chooses to do: He’s a natural choice for anyone looking to reconnect with notions of escapism.

So it is that this novel returns to the character of Shane “Scarecrow” Shofield, indestructible hero of four previous high-tech action novels.  This time, he happens to be up in the Arctic Circle just as a terrorist group takes over a Russian base and threatens the world with wholesale destruction.  Grabbing on to a small motley group, he boldly heads toward more dangers and insane action sequences than you can count.

Readers of the series so far will be completely comfortable with this new instalment: High-tech weapons, large-scale geopolitical premises, nick-of-time escapes from certain death are all featured here, along with the usual in-book diagrams, in-prose exclamation points and usual bon mots from the characters.  Reilly still manages to make me chuckle out loud at the absurdity of his action sequences, and he’s never too shy to tell you how to feel at any given moment. (i.e.; it’s not enough for the characters to swing heavy objects from cables in unlikely configuration: you will be told explicitly that “it was an incredible sight”)  The more you know the series, the more amusing it is: at one point, a character in desperate circumstances asks herself “what would Scarecrow do?” and the answer is to go for the most insane explosive alternative… and it works.  Scarecrow Returns also comes back to the enclosed-environment settings of early Reilly novels (unlike the globe-spanning of his last few books), and actually nods heavily toward continuity by taking in account the psychological trauma suffered by its protagonist in previous novels.

None of this is meant as a recommendation for those who are not already familiar with Reilly’s brand of explosive fiction: It takes a special kind of reader to appreciate the relentless pacing, crude plot mechanics and bang-bang prose.  Still, there’s respectability in consistency, and Scarecrow Returns is exactly what fans would be looking for in a new Reilly novel.  It’s so over the top that it creates its own reality, sucking readers out of their usual lives.  Escapism?  Yes, please.

The Five Greatest Warriors, Matthew Reilly

<em class="BookTitle">The Five Greatest Warriors</em>, Matthew Reilly

Pocket Books, 2011 reprint of 2010 original, 574 pages, C$9.99 pb, ISBN 978-1-4165-7758-4

Consistency is usually a good thing for authors and their readers.  Writers accumulate fans thanks to their particular set of strengths, after all, and the path to popular success is capitalizing on the reason why buyers will pick up books by authors they like.  Matthew Reilly has developed a reputation as the novelistic equivalent to a big-budget action-adventure movie director: He writes novels as if they were action movies with an unlimited budget, and dangerous spectacle is his stock in trade.

Still, there’s something to be said against too much consistency.  The Five Greatest Warriors is the third novel in the “Jack West Jr.” series, but while I reviewed first volume Seven Ancient Wonders a few months ago, I found nothing interesting to say about sequel The Six Sacred Stones given how similar it was to its predecessor.  This third entry isn’t all that different from the second one and what had been a lack of variety now becomes a bit of a problem.

Tough audiences that readers are, there’s a fine line between consistency and self-repetition, and The Five Greatest Warrior tiptoes a bit too close to the edge.  The blend of high-tech action theatrics with mysterious ancient fantastic settings and low-grade mysticism that seemed so interesting in The Seven Deadly Wonders now seems like more of the same, repeated again.

The biggest problem of the Jack West Jr. series so far is the inherent problems in having a sequel to world-saving heroics.  Once characters have saved the world once, what’s to do for an encore?  Save it again?  Reilly’s oft-stated wish to go faster and bigger with each successive novel runs into self-defeating diminishing returns.  Little can surprise these characters now, and rehashing yet another set of ancient mysteries coupled with mystical cosmic alignments can get less and less forgivable.

The formula that seemed so crazy (in a good way) at first glance can now seem crazy (in a bad way) when it’s repeated again with minor variations.  Lessening the blow somewhat is that The Five Freatest Warriors is a wrap-up of the plotline introduced in The Six Sacred Stones: Nobody really relieved that Jack West Jr. was dead when, at the end of the previous volume, he leaped into a pit.  Not only is he alive and healthy in this sequel, but he wraps up the adventure even though, at nearly 1200 combined pages, it feels far too long for its own good.

At least the action set-pieces are, as usual, ingeniously constructed.  As West and his group keeps unearthing fantastic ancient sites, we get to go inside a tower set in a Mongolian crater, run around a massive Japanese complex, and give a spectacular send-off to the 747 that starred in the series so far.  Massive inverted pyramids are found everywhere, and helpful diagrams will make it easier for readers to keep up with Reilly’s videogame-influenced imagination.

Sceptics should be warned that The Five Greatest Warriors is definitely not the book that will change their minds about Reilly’s work: His narration is still just as full of exclamation points, one-word paragraphs and cliffhanger chapter endings (If you want to speed-read Reilly’s work, simply glance at the last sentence of each chapter.  All action, no filler.)  Maybe there’s an argument to be made for readers to let a generous amount of time elapse between every book of the Jack West Jr. series: Its thrills operate on a too-similar level to sustain close comparison, so a bit of distraction can work wonders for those coming back to Reilly’s universe.

Still, it works.  Reilly can stuff more imaginative concepts in a disappointing novel than most other reality-bound writers can manage in a handful of theirs.  (In this volume, his idea for “living human tombs” manages to strike a nerve.)  The series may look like a bunch of dumb action thrillers, but Reilly repurposes a lot of historical research, trivia and coincidences for his own purposes.  For all his faults, he knows what he’s trying to do and reading his self-interviews at the end of each book is worth the trouble if only because he manages to pre-empt most of the basic criticism about his own novels.  Referring to the Jack West Jr. as contemporary epic fantasy pretty much says it all, really.

The interview also outlines the rest of the series, down to “The One Something Something”.  I’m not in any hurry to see the rest of the sequence, but keep in mind that this may be about satiation more than disappointment.  Let Reilly write something else for a moment, and in a few years, who knows, I may be in the mood again for that kind of spectacular blow-em up action thriller.

Seven Deadly Wonders, Matthew Reilly

<em class="BookTitle">Seven Deadly Wonders</em>, Matthew Reilly

Pocket, 2007 paperback reprint of 2006 original, 547 pages, C$9.99 pb, ISBN 978-1-4165-0506-8

Matthew Reilly writes thrillers like Michael Bay directs movies.

I will let you figure out if this is a compliment.  There’s little grace and subtlety to Reilly’s writing style and it only takes a few pages into Seven Deadly Wonders to be reminded of his overuse of exclamation points, illustrative info-graphics, short paragraphs (sometimes even one-word paragraphs) and tough-guy machismo.  Every sentence has its own camera angle and his action scenes aren’t written as much as they’re loudly pounded with a thrash metal back-beat.

It doesn’t make for fine writing, but it does amount to a unique reading experience akin to an unlimited-budget summer blockbuster.  Reilly’s never been one to think small, and Seven Deadly Wonders roars forward from the very beginning, occasionally pausing for explanatory interludes and flash-backs.  Moving away from his usual military techno-thriller plot formula to embrace a Da Vinci Code-esque blend of modern gadgets, supernatural mysticism and historical trivia, Reilly posits a vast Antique conspiracy to hide away a terrible artefact in vast trap-filled catacombs.  When three competing forces all start gunning each other to gain elements of the artefact, the fun begins.

Breaking away from his series of novels featuring top US Special Forces operative Shane Scofeild, Reilly doesn’t go looking too far for his next protagonist: Jack West Jr. is a top Australian special forces operative with two degree in ancient history –which proves handy given the book’s emphasis on ancient mysteries.  Refining his usual formula of thrusting a team of special operatives against ever-increasing odds, Reilly has some fun in incorporating a ten-year-old girl in the proceedings (she ends up re-naming the rest of the team, tweaking tough-guy names like “Saladin” to something like “Pooh Bear”) and making the ensemble cast a more integral part of the story.

The biggest change in attitude between both series, however, is the inclusion of a dose of supernatural content in the form of prophecies, ancient advanced technologies and mystical light-shows.  In an insightful afterword, Reilly refers to Seven Deadly Wonders as contemporary fantasy, which is really just another way of saying that he’ll push premises as far as they can go.  Compared to most of the other thrillers clearly showing a Dan Brown influence, Reilly prefers a far more muscular thriller component: The book doesn’t skimp on large-scale action scenes, explosions, advanced military equipment and global power-plays.  It offers a frenetic global hunt for relics of the Seven Wonders of the World and ends with a spectacular set-piece involving the great pyramid, a hovering 747 and blood sacrifice leading to no less than a thousand years of domination for the winning team.  Whew!

As long as you consent to play by Reilly’s rules, this is pure escapist entertainment.  Reilly’s intention to always go bigger, faster and crazier sets him apart from other writers still preoccupied with plausibility, and results in some spectacular sequences –there’s a really good set-piece set in an overhanging garden that’s as crazy as it’s entertaining.  While some of Reilly’s tricks will strike high-brow readers as skirting illiteracy (read the book aloud to realize how insanely dramatic his prose style can be), there’s something fascinating in seeing him re-use blockbuster and video-game aesthetics in a prosaic context.  Seven Deadly Wonders is abundantly illustrated with diagrams designed to make sense of the action, making for a very peculiar reading experience bridging the gap between prose and videogame mechanics.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Seven Deadly Wonders is how it manages to one-up much of Reilly’s already-extreme bibliography.  The mysticism may be off-putting in a thriller context, but the atmosphere of everything-goes is coherent, and there’s a lot of cleverness in fitting modern action in ancient settings and layers of mythology.  Reilly makes most other thriller writers look like sedate bores.  There’s no need to look for social relevance or dramatic depth here: Seven Deadly Wonders is purely committed to its own aesthetics, and that’s a huge part of why it feels so interesting.  Like it or not, few other writers are as dedicated at pushing the state-of-the-art in that particular direction, and even those who complain about this book being geared to the ADD generation may find something of note here.

[February 2011: A full-length review of follow-up Jack West adventure Six Sacred Stones would be redundant, as it has pretty much the same strengths and weaknesses as Seven Deadly Wonders: action-movie-inspired plotting and prose, numerous diagrams, constant movement and a blend of high tech gadgets in spectacular ancient settings.  It does feel a bit duller when read shortly after its predecessors and redundant as well: The first book ended on a definitive note, whereas this one sets up a cliff-hanger to be resolved in Five Greatest Warriors. I have no plans to stop reading, but I would like Reilly to write something else at some point.]

Scarecrow, Matthew Reilly

<em class="BookTitle">Scarecrow</em>, Matthew Reilly

St. Martin’s, 2003 (2005 reprint), 464 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-312-93766-0

Let me tell you why I love reading Matthew Reilly’s novels.

Since an image is worth a thousand words, picture this: Ottawa in mid-February. A meter of snow everywhere, ice on the ground, snowflakes in the air, fierce wind whipping the countryside. Then focus on an infrequent bus, stained with salt, windows fogged with its passengers’ exhalations, plowing through the storm thanks to an aggravated driver whose schedule has already been smashed by the weather, out-of-synch traffic lights, bad pavement and passengers who don’t know how to behave. Now enter the bus and try to find a place in the middle of a crowded space, alongside surly teenagers, glum federal public servants, depressed shift workers and overburdened students. The noise is a monotonous mixture of wind, pavement cracks, coughs, sniffles and regular stop calls. One person, squeezed in-between two grossly overweight passengers, is smiling. Of course, he’s reading a Matthew Reilly thriller.

What you’re not seeing is that at that point in the novel, barely fifty pages in, top operative Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield has just escaped a crumbling high-rise by grappling onto a Harrier-like jet. The building hides a top-secret Soviet ICBM launch complex, Schofield has a $18.2 million dollar bounty on his preferably-severed head, bounty hunters have decimated the rest of his Marines and there’s a Typhoon-class nuclear submarine hidden nearby.

This, my friends, is high-class escapism.

Some commuters read romance, some read fantasy, some read science-fiction, some read murder mysteries —and some read them all. But give me a slick over-the-top technothriller, and I won’t even care if it takes twice as long to go to work or get back home: As long as I’m reading, I will barely be on the bus.

This being Reilly’s fifth novel, it’s got a track record to follow. Fortunately, Reilly amps up the action to ever more frenetic levels, not forgetting to throw in a few spectacular scenes (such as an aircraft carrier blowing up), fast cars, high-tech weapons (such as Metalstorm rifles), fake deaths and nick-of-time escapes. Not to mention a bare-knuckles fist-fight between two series regulars. By this time in his series, he can count of his reader’s familiarity with his tricks to build punchlines or gut-punch readers who expect something else. A recurring character dies here, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a really funny moment during which a character tries to emulate Schofield’s recurring mag-hook trick, only to find out that it doesn’t work… and then scream that this sort of thing never happens to the Scarecrow.

But one thing’s new this time around, and it’s thematic framework that underlies the action. While Reilly gets a lot of juice from his bounty-hunting antagonists (one of which is certain to make a return appearance in upcoming novels), he ends up providing his novel with an apocalyptic “third world against first world” justification that hints at greater degrees of political sophistication. But don’t make too much of it in Scarecrow, though, because most of it is jettisoned as soon as the last act rolls in.

But once the smoke has cleared, it all adds up to an unusually satisfying thriller experience. Reilly has mastered thriller writing not only in delivering the good to his readership, but doing in a way that practically absolves him of any criticism: Of course, his premises, means, justifications, characters, and plotting don’t sustain comparison with the real world; what’s your point? The real thrill here is in seeing a skilled craftsman plays magnificently with the tools of his trade. It’s beautiful, impressive, and completely absorbing. If ever you see me reading a Matthew Reilly novel on the bus, please don’t disturb.

Area 7, Matthew Reilly

<em class="BookTitle">Area 7</em>, Matthew Reilly

St. Martin’s, 2001 (2003 reprint), 490 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-312-98322-0

If ever Matthew Reilly’s publishers are scouring the web for snappy blurbs, here’s the best I can do: “Matthew Reilly is the mad man of thrillers.”

It’s even true.

Because other writers write thrillers as if they’ve got constraints to respect. Budgets. Logic. Physics. Reilly, on the other hand, thinks that none of those things should stand in the way of a kick-ass thriller. And seeing how much fun his novels are to read, it’s hard to disagree with him.

Area 7 alone, for instance, has a massive underground complex filled with government secrets, advanced airplanes, traitorous special forces, serial killers and Kodiak bears. That’s beautiful, and I haven’t even told you anything yet about a President of the United States whose heart is wired to an explosive charge, and the special game that pits the President’s secret service against a renegade bunch of racist military personnel. Do I really need to? This is a novel in which, for goodness’ sake, the protagonist escape to orbit midway through the story, and them come back down for more explosive action.

If you have already read some of Reilly’s other thrillers, you will find yourself at home: It’s got the same scope of imagination, the same madcap pacing, the same rush through mysteries and revelations. Any other writer feels like a poky geezer after Reilly’s thrill-a-chapter experience.

The similitudes to his other novels will be obvious. Not only does Area 7 feature protagonist Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield (who also starred in Ice Station), it also takes place in a generally confined environment like the eponymous Ice Station or the library of Contest. Like most Reilly novels so far, it features a lone hero acting alongside crack teams of opposing forces, plays along with high-tech weaponry and seems aimed more at jaded action movie fans than traditional thriller readers.

By the time our hero blasts off into orbit to duel with astronauts defecting to China and control a satellite that relays instructions to the President’s bobby-trapped pacemaker, (or something like that) it’s far too ridiculous to be taken seriously: even when it works, it works on a different level, one that takes place on the meta-fictional plane where author and reader are trying to one-up each other in a complex game of self-aware genre protocol redefinition.

Or maybe it’s just explosive slam-bang action throughout. At some point it’s exhausting to pick where earnestness stops and parody begins. Suffice to say that if Area 7 has a flaw, it’s the same one as Reilly’s other thrillers: By pummeling readers with non-stop action and ever-crazier developments, it runs the risk of exhausting its audience. Ironically, it’s page-a-minute speed freaks rather than slower, infrequent readers that may have bigger problems reading the book: Unlike other writers who pad their narrative with description and character moments that can be skipped on the way to the next plot point, Reilly dispenses with those uneventful stretches and so trips up readers who have made a habit out of skimming. He only gets detailed when writing an action sequence in which all the small details have to be aligned. Otherwise, it’s gunshots and explosions all the time.

It goes without saying that Reilly’s writing for a specific audience, and that this audience is considerably smaller than the total book-toting public. But his formula has become sheer performance art, and I can’t wait until I can read his next novel.

Contest, Matthew Reilly

<em class="BookTitle">Contest</em>, Matthew Reilly

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, 1996 (2003 rewrite), 334 pages, C$34.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-28625-2

I have praised Matthew Reilly’s madness before, but it turns out that I really had no idea of what he was really capable of writing: Contest, his true first novel, provides a look at Reilly’s least-controlled, most chaotic self. The book’s publishing history itself has become a bit of a legend among Reilly fans: Written while Reilly was still in university, the book was rejected by numerous publishers before being self-published. Some of those copied were snapped up by an editor who commissioned Ice Station, and the rest has become publishing history.

This edition of Contest is not the original version: It has been re-written with more characters, set in a slightly different location and presumably americanized for its intended audience. But it clearly does show an undisciplined, hyperactive writer who cares a lot more about breakneck pacing than originality or even plausibility.

The premise itself is the kind of nonsense from which B-movie parodies emerge: In an intergalactic tournament where warriors from alien races battle each other for the prize, the latest iteration takes place… in the main branch of the New York Public Library. After careful consideration, a humble New Yorker doctor/dad has been selected to represent the human race. After dark, let the game begin!

It’s tough to take the novel seriously after that, especially given the weak and far-fetched justifications used to set an alien rampage inside the NYPL. No amount of hand-waving or advanced technology can make this premise work well, and it’s further evidence of Reilly’s insanity that he never seriously tries: we quickly gather that he’s really writing a B-grade movie, and whatever exposition would be too troublesome to put on screen is simply discarded. It’s worth noting that the book jacket blurb never mentions the word aliens, or even alludes to the novel’s science-fictional nature.

Fortunately, there are plenty of plot complications to keep us busy: Despite the so-called ironclad rules of the tournament. Our hero is actually stuck in the NYPL with his daughter, and at least one contestant is cheating like crazy. (The alien context overseers really don’t come across as particularly competent.) Some of the plot developments can be seen well in advance (say, as soon as the character is informed that “if you leave the Library, you have fifteen minutes until your bracelet explodes”), while other plot developments are sheer authorial bravado: As usual, never assume someone’s dead until you can conclusively identify the body. And always leave room for the possibility that the author is lying to you.

There are few other ways to say it: Contest is often a ridiculous excuse for a novel, a cheap B-grade exploitation action movie somehow written in prose. But it does have energy, some misguided cleverness and a three-pages-a-minute pacing. It’s bad, bold and yet good, certainly a promising work from a thriller author who would learn much in his latter novels. But I feel safe in saying that there hasn’t been a thriller set in a library quite like this, and even if I think that the premise would have been just as interesting in a more realistic context (say, with criminals and mercenaries as the contestants in a crazy game-show: see MEAN GUNS for a version of this), the finished product remains a better-than-average commuter read. Latter novels have shown Reilly forging himself a reputation as a fast-paced, low-realism, go-for-broke writer, and Contest shows him at his least polished, most visceral state. It’s a must-read for Reilly fans, and memorable experience for others.

Ice Station, Matthew Reilly

<em class="BookTitle">Ice Station</em>, Matthew Reilly

St. Martin’s, 1999, 513 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-312-97123-0

When I write that some writers should be praised for their insane genius, I’m specifically thinking of Matthew Reilly. You can keep paying tribute to your literary prodigies, your award-winning wordsmiths and your tortured artistes: Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting in the corner whooping it up with one of Reilly’s pedal-to-the-metal action thrillers.

Seemingly written for those who think that Hollywood action blockbusters are too slow and sedate, Reilly’s novels explode out of their premises, multiplying action sequences at the carefree expense of believability. It’s as if a Hollywood screenwriter was unleashed from the bounds of budgetary concerns and insurance liability: Suddenly, unbridled excesses and can-you-top-this action sequences become mere chapters in books that delights in exhausting the readers. Reilly’s novel are amoung the best in applying action movie mechanics to the novel form, and while the result won’t be for everyone, it’s a hugely enjoyable way to pass time.

Ice Station may have been Reilly’s first professional publication (Contest was initially self-published; though re-worked and republished later on) but it already showcases Reilly’s characteristic style. Taking place in Antarctica, it initially describes how a team of Marines investigates the mysterious disappearance of nearly all personnel from a US research station. Things soon spiral out of control as the Marines are attacked from all sides: There’s a killer in the station, strange lifeforms in the pool at the bottom of the base, and enemy forces closing in on the surface.

But that’s still mere prelude to the sheer insanity of the novel as it develops all of these threads. Because there’s something very dangerous about Wilkes Station where most of the action takes place: something buried deep in the ice, and something that several governments are clearly ready to fight over… or destroy if they can’t have it.

But geopolitical considerations are mere background information when the shooting begins. Close-combat heroics, hovercraft demolition derbies, mutants, three successive waves of elite attackers, nuclear-powered weaponry and high-tech gadgets are only some of the elements that give Ice Station its hard-edged charm. The characters are secondary at the exception of protagonist Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield (who later goes on to star in three more of Reilly’s novels), but the centerpiece action sequences are very well-done. Reilly’s special genius is that he understands the mechanics of an action sequence: the impossible situations, the small accumulation of mini-objectives, the ratcheting tension in every twist and turn, the cool little ideas that help the protagonists fight their way out of desperate odds…

I suspect that few serious critics will be kind toward Reilly’s work: He does cheat and lie to his readers in order to crank the tension, and the over-the-top ridiculousness of his accumulating action will be lost on anyone who’s not already a fan of kinematic action. But there’s a lot of clever genre-bending in Ice Station, which earns some distinction by being one of the few thrillers to set up an extraterrestrial element, then tops it with an even less likely development that manages to keep the novel in the realm of the techno-thriller.

So, no, Ice Station will never get any respect, but it doesn’t really need any: As a techno-thriller, it wipes the floor with the shattered corpses of most other novels of its genre. Reilly’s talent is in his visceral understanding of what make a story move, both at the sentence-by-sentence and the structural level. He is, not insignificantly, a thriller writer with is own distinctive style, and that should be enough to earn him enough faithful readers to enable him to write whatever he wants. Insane geniuses deserve their own dedicated followers, you know.

Temple, Matthew Reilly

St. Martin’s, 1999, 508 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-312-98126-0

Few dilemmas of genre fiction fascinate me as much as the trade-off between believability and excitement in thrillers. Make your thriller as faithful to reality as possible and there’s nothing left to distinguish it from dull newspaper headlines. Make your narrative as wild as possible and no one will take you seriously.

On the other hand, nobody ever said that “being taken seriously” was in the job description of thriller authors. So congratulations to Matthew Reilly for figuring out that sometimes, it’s better to be fast, furious, insane and action-packed than to be realistic. His second novel Temple may never survive a real-world audit, but it’s exciting like few other thrillers I’ve read recently, and that excitement does much to patch over the weaker parts of the novel.

Although mixing historical treasure-hunting with high technology has enjoyed a renewed degree of popularity since Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Reilly was there before most others with Temple. The initial hook is a staple of adventure fiction: A rare Inca idol made of extra-terrestrial material that could end up destroying a good chunk of the Earth should it fall in the wrong hands. To retrieve the idol from its current unknown location, the U.S. Army grabs academic William Race and drags him in the jungle, where he’ll have to interpret a rare manuscript, make nice with his ex-girlfriend and learn how to become an action hero against nature, Neo-Nazis and American traitors.

Busy schedule, and “busy” is only one way to describe the fever pitch of Temple when it gets running. As he runs deeper in the Andean jungle, William Race is surrounded, then abandoned by highly-trained military personnel. Occasional allies include native people and a pair of German police officers (including one coincidentally named Karl Schroeder). But it’s the variety of threats that make Temple flip over on the “wild and crazy” side of the thriller ledger. Any novel that pits giant felines against Neo-Nazis is not one to dismiss easily, especially when both of them are against an academic who’s got to learn everything about modern weaponry in the blink of an eye.

The chief attraction of Temple is how it unabashedly structures itself as a written action movie. There’s little complexity of prose and character here, but a lot of complicated action sequences and cinematic set pieces. This isn’t a book for delicate little literary flowers: this is the written equivalent to a blockbuster Hollywood action movie, and it works remarkably well at fulfilling those expectations. Many thriller writer attempt such action-heavy stories, but few of them do it as well as Reilly.

The only lull in the action comes in a pair of lengthy historical narratives forming the diary of a priest visiting the Inca empire hundreds of years before Temple‘s contemporary frame. I ended up skimming those sections with little impact on my comprehension of the rest of the story.

As for the rest, well, it’s tough to summarize boats jumping in the air and wild gun tricks. I’ll let you grab a copy of the book and find out for yourself. Just don’t expect a lot of internal coherence or even a basic respect for the laws of physics. The last death-defying climax is so ridiculously overblown that it will either make you hate the novel or seal your love for it forever: It’s the kind of things that only insane or self-confident authors can pull off, and I can’t tell if Reilly is one or the other. I’m not even sure I want to know.

One thing is for sure, though: Now that I have belatedly become aware of Matthew Reilly, it’s about time that I find out what else he’s written. Already, Contest and Ice Station have been thrown in my pile of books to read, and I can’t wait to find out if the brand of crazy action that sustained Temple is to be found in his other books. But, oh, have I got a hunch…