You’re on the beach beneath a hot sun, you’ve just slapped on some Factor 50 and you’re enjoying the cool condensation from a bottle of beer trickling through your fingers. You’re thinking there’s only one element missing: you want to read an adventure novel featuring a square-jawed hero, a beautiful heroine, a ruthless villain and shitloads of nicely-crafted action.
Chris Allen’s Defender, the first in his Intrepid series, is a book best enjoyed in the pounding noonday heat. It’s widescreen writing. When you see the images in your head, they’re in Imax. Defender is a movie on a page.
I mean, check out the blurb:
Part Jason Bourne and part James Bond, Alex Morgan is an agent of Interpol’s Intelligence, Recovery, Protection and Infiltration Division – Intrepid. Policeman, soldier and spy, Morgan and his fellow Intrepid operatives are the faceless strangers who serve the greater good – the means to justify the end.
When an intelligence agent is brutally murdered and the president of a small African country is put in danger, Morgan is sent in on his first solo mission.
His cover is to evacuate a group of aid workers, with the help of the beautiful but distant Arena Halls, before the country is swept by civil war. But his true mission is much darker. A spy has gone rogue – and there’s more at stake than the guy’s career in the Secret Intelligence Service.
A heart-pounding, no-holds-barred chase from the dark heart of Africa to the crystalline waters of Sydney culminates in a fight to the death to stop a vicious renegade intelligence officer and uncover the shadowy conspiracy behind him.
Can Morgan stay alive long enough to save the girl, save himself and bring them all to justice?
Defender is summer fun. Allen has found sly way of getting his hero Alex Morgan into all sorts of dangerous scrapes. I mean, working for Intrepid, Interpol’s black ops section, Morgan is a soldier, a policeman and spy, all rolled into one – it’s not a desk job.
I don’t really get the Bourne and Bond references from the blurb, Morgan doesn’t really do much in the way of the secret agent stuff. Allen seems to have made a conscious decision to do away with all the fancy frills, there are no gadgets in Defender, there’s no ludicrous tech. Goodness knows Morgan knows his way round state-of-the-art weapons – lordy, there’s enough firepower in this book – and where Defender really excels in the military sequences. There are a number of standout scenes where you really get the sense that the author – a former paratrooper – knows his stuff.
In one long sequence, Morgan tries to evacuate Westerners from an African country which is being overrun by rebels, and the whole setpiece is pretty intense. The author pulls out all his big guns in a series of short, muscular cliffhanger chapters, and he’s a pretty fine action writer.
The world’s turning to hell in a handbasket – there are explosions and shattering glass and falling masonry and scissoring rotor-blades and thousands of rebel soldiers who want Morgan dead. The situation goes from bad to worse, it’s Die Hard crazy. Shit goes down. The thrills are delivered thick-and-fast, and hit their target with the precision of a sniper, and you kind of sense, as a military guy, Allen’s knowledge of this kind of stuff goes way beyond the usual research.
Morgan leaps to and from every vehicle known to man. You can practically hear the pounding soundtrack. Your mind provides the slow-motion split-second: the close-up of his stretching hand, the fiery undulation of explosions in slow-motion, and the clatter of shell-casings. Defender works best when it keeps moving, hurling from one dangerous moment to the next.
Morgan, an Australian working for the black ops section of Interpol, makes for a vulnerable hero – it’s interesting that he’s seen reading an Eric Ambler in one scene. I liked that Morgan is a down-to-earth kind of guy – true, he does have a really hot lady throwing herself at him, but he’s no superhero. I liked the way he kept getting injured. Fancy that – he throws himself at helicopters and onto speedboats in raging storms, and there’s ‘plosions, and he actually gets hurt.
I didn’t much care for the scenes set around Whitehall – God knows, I know what a rainy London day looks like – but Defender worked best for me when the narrative hurled me around and the world and dropped me into a shitstorm of action. You can imagine you’re squinting up at the hard African light, or bouncing on the soft swell of the Indian Ocean.
What I liked: Did I mention the action? Allen knows that you have to put your protagonist through the wringer. So, in one exciting sequence, Morgan is running for his life, trying to jump onto a moving helicopter – I imagine that’s quite hard – while hundreds of blood-thirsty gunmen try to shoot him in the bottom, and fuel-tanks explode all around him. And that’s only the beginning of his problems.
Writing action is a very particular skill, I think, particularly in these days when movie action sequences move at the speed of light. An author has to juggle pace, momentum, character and convey lots and lots of information. Who are the authors you think write action really well? Who are the people who get your pulse racing?
Later in the week, by the way, we’ll find out about Chris’s writing regime.