Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alex Berenson - The Night Ranger - Book #7 in the John Wells series

The Night Ranger, by Alex Berenson, is the 7th book in the John Wells series.  Wells made his debut in The Faithful Spy (which was also Berenson's 1st book).  The premise of that book was so unique and well-thought-out (like Michael Lavigne’s Not Me) that it made my very first Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader (FFTNFR) list, posted on February 19, 2011.  In that book, Wells is a CIA operative that infiltrates Al Queda.  He not only lives with AQ for 10 years in the Pakistani mountains, he actually converts to Islam.  Isn’t that really a cool concept?  I thought so.  But here’s the problem:  The succeeding books have become less and less interesting.  The Night Ranger is only a 2.5 out of 4 (it’s certainly not cracking my best of 2013 let alone my top 12 all-time!).  Berenson hasn’t been able to do what Vince Flynn, Daniel Silva, W.E.B. Griffin, et al have been able to do – i.e. at least maintain the same quality of story/writing as the 1st in the series.  And, in Silva’s case, his last book is my favorite of the Gabriel Allon series that has, so far, spanned 12 books.  In the case of Griffin’s Honor Bound series, each book of the 6 has actually gotten better, with #6, Victory and Honor, being the best one yet.  So there’s no rule that says an author has to get either lazy or careless, or “whatever” about his series.

Having done my usual off-the-track rambling, I am now prepared to spend a couple of sentences on The Night Ranger.  4 friends, who have recently graduated from college in Montana, go to a Somalian refugee camp in Kenya to volunteer.  After 3 months there, they decide to take a day trip to the beach.  They are kidnapped and become a worldwide cause celebre (just to let you know that I can be intellectual on (rare) occasion).  The ramifications of not getting the kids back alive could lead to a war.  John Wells receives a call from his estranged teenage son, Evan, who is friends with the sister of one of the kidnapped girls.  Evan asks Wells to go to Kenya and find the 4.  How can Wells say no to such a simple request?  The rest of the book is spent with Wells, mostly solo, chasing down the kidnapped kids.

If I seem to be taking a ho-hum tone, I think I’m being a little bit harsh.  The 1st half of the book is slow but does pick up in the 2nd half.  I like John Wells, but I don’t have the emotional attachment to him that I have with Vince Flynn’s or Daniel Silva’s protagonists.  I will say that I felt a connection on page 143 between one of the kidnapped girls (2 girls and 2 boys) and the leader of the kidnappers.  And, lo and behold, I felt some emotion on page 277 when Wells was talking to his son, from Kenya to Montana.

Will I read book #8 next January?  Probably.  After all, it is a 2.5.  There’s nothing wrong with reading authors that can write solid, readable, entertaining books (they can’t all be The Angels’ Share or The Language of Flowers).  But I can’t help pining for something resembling The Faithful Spy.  Am I being unfair or unreasonable?  Perhaps.  But, then again, it's my blog, and I answer to no one - except you readers, of course. 

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