This series explores genres new or newish to me as part of my 2017 reading challenge
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
I’m not really into dinosaurs and, had I never seen the movie of the same name—yes, that same one everyone else and their mother has seen twelve times—I likely would have passed Jurassic Park the book up as well. So why haven’t I read it before now? Well, I can thank my ever-present TBR, that pile of awaiting works towering over the tallest skyscraper and which keeps my anticipation on hyper drive. But I can also thank my teenage son, for finally getting to it. After a childhood of “house rule says you have to read the book before you can watch the movie,” he was given some more wiggle room, and still frequently experiences the book-movie pairing, just in reverse: if he loves a movie he checks to see if it’s based on a novel and if so, wants to read it.
So he kept telling me I had to check out the Michael Crichton book that re-ignited the dino devotion, and I finally did (after also watching the film with him at least a dozen times). As he told me, there is a lot you’ll recognize, and some you won’t. The book, to the surprise of absolutely no one, is very different to the movie. There’s a Tim and Lex, and their parents are getting divorced, the reason they appear at the island. The story is rolling for awhile, however, before they appear, and we see another little girl first.
There is also a great deal of background detail presented in the novel, some of it slightly dry, but intriguing enough to make the connections Crichton wants us to, and it explains a lot about how events turn out in both book and film—we should say films, given material from the first book is seen in at least one sequel. With a subplot involving the theft of dinosaur embryos creating more questions, tension and irritability, we witness the start of a race against time to avoid catastrophe not only on the island, but also elsewhere.
Most everyone reading this probably knows the end results of Jurassic Park’s cinematic escapade, but I’ve never come across many who’ve read the book, so I’m hesitant to go into too much detail, because there really is more to know than just the plot—and it’s fantastic. Readers will re-evaluate their thoughts regarding the characters they actually cared about the most when they read the cast present itself differently. Character knowledge also plays a role and the thrill this creates runs throughout the entire book, from start to finish, even though those who open the tale are new, underdeveloped and generally there to furnish background information. Individual characters aren’t always as emotive as one might expect, given what they are experiencing, but this tends to become a lesser concern because readers themselves will be flipping pages to find out, snapping back at those they don’t like and running up against their own anxieties in the race to escape the monsters Hammond has spared no expense to create.
OK, yes, I know: they’re not “monsters,” some purists (such as Grant) may feel inclined to shoot back.
“[Y]ou ought to see the vets scrubbing those big fangs so he doesn’t get tooth decay ….”
“Not just now,” Gennaro said. “What about your mechanical systems?”
“You mean the rides?” Arnold said.
Grant looked up sharply: rides?
“None of the rides are running yet,” Arnold was saying. “We have the Jungle River Ride, where the boats follow tracks underwater, and we have the Aviary Lodge Ride, but none of it’s operational yet. The park’ll open with the basic dinosaur tour—the one that you’re about to take in a few minutes. The other rides will come on line six, twelve months after that.”
“Wait a minute,” Grant said. “You’re going to have rides? Like an amusement park?”
Arnold said, “This is a zoological park. We have tours of different areas, and we call them rides. That’s all.”
Grant frowned. Again he felt troubled. He didn’t like the idea of dinosaurs being used for an amusement park.
It’s just that if I were running for my life from huge-toothed ginormous creatures created by a raving megalomaniac, I wouldn’t be too worried about saving them face. Getting out of Dodge would be priority number one. Crichton, however, positions Grant as a true archeologist, someone who cares deeply about his subject of lifelong study, without obnoxiously endangering those who still walk the Earth (and minus the benefit of supra natural means, I might add). Moreover, he maintains a balance because he does care about people, and the conflict he runs up against illustrates how one can walk that fine line and act in the best interests of all—and why doing so has implications for other areas.
All in all, Jurassic Park is what so many already know: a fabulous, thrilling tale of hubris and the questions pertaining to scientific advancement, plus so much more. With characters, events and a timeline that ooze terror and suspense, readers will wonder why they never got to it long before now.
The thrilling main premise of James Tarr’s Whorl is the discovery by a young FBI lab tech of fingerprints that are a match—from three different people. We’ve all been told since we first began to learn about our prints that no one in the world has the same, not even twins. What will this mean for crimes successfully prosecuted on the basis of fingerprints?—which, by the way, outnumber any other type of evidence in solving cases. With implications not just for authorities and those prosecuted by them but also a public sure to panic once they learn of the discovery and realize its implications, the FBI needs to do something—fast.
It fits the narrative perfectly that Tarr waits to bring us to this point. The novel opens with Dave Anderson, a Detroit armored car driver, and subsequent chapters switch to various perspectives. The transitions are smooth and there is no difficulty discerning whose head we’re occupying at any given moment. In many novels it is not unusual to alternate by chapter from one point of view to the next, and the author teases this out a bit with a series of engaging passages until we reach the lab tech’s astounding find.
What is really great about this portion is that though from the blurb we know what’s coming, it doesn’t loom in an “Are we ever going to get there?” fashion. Engaging almost doesn’t say it all because, for starters, that chunk of the book passes by so quickly, given its page-turner status. Why is moves so quickly, luring us along with it, is because here Tarr introduces a sub plot, simultaneously supplying mainline background we don’t realize we’re getting until we’re nearly through it. At this point, putting the book down is simply not a viable option. We’re hooked and, at times hearts racing, waiting for a shoe to drop.
Another author strength is his dialogue. In particular one early passage stands out, given it is so integral to getting the main plot off the ground. Smooth, authentic and well-paced, it supplies a great deal of technical information about fingerprints without resorting to any sort of info dumping or tedious exchanges. As the tale moves forward, the dialogue remains relevant and succinct, yet also manages to tell us so much about who these people are.
There is also a fair amount of detail on firearms, accessibly presented to match enthusiasts as well as those not so in tune to the topic, including readers who feel they might be turned off by it. Those willing to proceed with open minds will even realize that much they read in newspapers has very little in common with reality—and all this is done in a straightforward manner that doesn’t resort to preaching.
Once the paths from the various points of view we are following begin to converge, the action intensifies while, curiously, some elements of everyday life remain intact. As the FBI moves in on the evidence of a reality they don’t want known, readers are aware of only slightly more than characters, therefore are often caught as off guard as those in the book are. We know something is going to happen, and Tarr continues to dangle the suspense, another hovering shoe, with the added contemplation of which angle it may drop from.
“I’ve got a name and a face, I’m wondering if you know the guy, or can run him by some people. I’m wondering if he’s in your line of work.”
“Which line of work is that?” Bob smiled at him.
“Shit.” John laughed. “Private contracting, executive protection, I don’t know. For all I know you’re still in and doing super secret ninja stuff with Delta Force or CAG or Dev Group or The Unit or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves now, seems like they change it every year. But it’s a relatively small world, isn’t it? Small number of guys at the Tier 1 level.”
Bob shrugged. “Depends.”
“On who you’re working for, and what you’re doing. Private contracting … yeah, that’s a pretty small world. If you don’t know somebody, you know somebody who knows them, heard of them, or worked with them. On the government side, though, the black work, the operations end on the spook side … a lot of them originally come from the spec-ops community, but a lot of them are grown and trained in-house, and never interact with anybody else.”
As characters unwittingly find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy to conceal information, readers can understand the viable FBI concern, but also question their methods of keeping it all under wraps, and it links with what we know, or have heard, in real life pertaining to communities within regimes whose consanguinity fears exposure. Are these rogue elements, or should we really be asking ourselves whether it is as safe as some believe to trust our own government? How many secrets does the real world have? How far would any administration carry its protection of them? Tarr addresses this in his author’s note regarding the real-world case of Brandon Mayfield, and both that and the story within Whorl, even with poetic license accounted for, serve as cautionary tales for citizens who would put large amounts of faith in those with the power to control their lives.
James Tarr has created with Whorl a superb thriller that grabs our attention and doesn’t let go, with suspense that simmers as well as builds up as each page turns, and many shoes begin to drop. Set mainly in the gritty neighborhoods of Detroit, which the author knows intimately, its rapidly moving intrigue and realistic plot development provides a memorable story and enables contemplation of issues related to real life. With a reluctant but likeable main character, it’s difficult not to want to meet up with him again.
About the author …
James Tarr is the author of several novels, and co-authored Dillard Johnson’s Iraq War memoir, Carnivore. A regular contributor to many outdoor enthusiast magazines, he also appears on the Guns & Ammo television show. Tarr lives in Michigan with his fiancée, two sons, and a dog named Fish.
It is widely known that through history proximity to water has always been a top priority, even when marine access near where settlements occurred gives way to roaring oceans and seas with conditions so brutal and unforgiving that we marvel at how anyone had the fortitude to face them at all.
The North Sea in particular, containing the world’s busiest shipping lanes, has never been known for its placid nature; even a brief query into logs and records reveals a long history of casualties of her rage—and not just sailors and other seafarers. In 1362, the Danish duchy of Schleswig lost an entire city when Grote Manndränke (“Great Drowning of Men”), gale-induced flooding, swept in from the sea, killing at least 25,000 people and dragging Rungheldt, and everything within, out to a watery grave. It is said that the city’s church bells can still be heard ringing in the area on stormy nights.
The forces that stir the waters are measured by what is known as the Beaufort scale, a system developed by Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, which relates wind speed and conditions of the sea into a standardized measure. Evolving over time to adapt to technology and land observations, the scale tops out at Force 12.
Within this setting author James Boschert sets the main events of Force 12 in German Bight, though the book opens with a hideous death on land, at London’s Paddington Station, where an electric train grinds to a halt and runs over the body of a man thought to have jumped in its path. Detective Inspector Steven Greenfield picks up the case, quickly determining the man was murdered before his body hit the rails, setting off a series of links that eventually take readers out to sea, embarking upon an odyssey none of our literary shipmates could ever have imagined.
Following a few scenes that introduce other characters to the novel, Boschert cleverly moves us out to sea, commencing our journey as a group of barge workers embark on their own latest dredging foray under the turbulent waters of the North Sea. Equally skillfully, the author sets the stage for later events and how the setting interacts with the characters and our own absorption of how it all unfolds:
“Patrick wanted to get off the deck quickly; he didn’t want to get in the way of one of the fifty ton cranes, which rumbled about on the wide, wooden-clad steel deck like huge dinosaurs, lifting cargo off the back deck of the tug, and swinging it up onto the larger vessel. Unless one knew what was going on, the upper deck of the barge was a dangerous place to loiter.”
One of a group of hard-living men who curse the isolation of their rough work space, Patrick spends some time re-acquainting with his cabin mate and socializing at a clandestine welcome-back party before assuming his night shift. Within these scenes Boschert simultaneously and seamlessly instructs and informs the reader of barge operations, various billets and the mechanism of constant breakdowns the vessel endures. He pulls the technique off expertly, and I was drawn in by the dialogue as it ran smoothly along it course, without a hint that it was actually pulling this double duty.
Some new readers may be tempted to cast Force 12 in German Bight as a “guy book,” given its setting, nearly-all-male cast and the male-oriented industrial lingo; this would be a grave mistake. The dialogue’s liquidity, soundness and intrigue drew me in to such a degree I found myself looking into certain terms—servo motors, gyroscope, winch room, for example—in order to place myself even more closely within the events of the story than I already was. This is a measure of how closely I wanted to align myself with these characters, drawn with such authenticity that I sought to know their world on the deepest level possible.
Finding myself gripping the book at times, I could indeed smell the sea air, feel the heavy diesel stink in my nostrils, hear the thunder of the machinery, visualize the droplets of sea shooting into the air, then pounding back down as people shouted at each other to be heard, while their movements compensated for the rise and fall of the waves that tossed their barge up and down with them.
Making his rounds that evening, Patrick discovers a dead body, the American Charlie, whose head wounds seem to indicate murder. He guardedly summons a comrade called Skillet and from here on out he and the men who gather around him are locked in a battle for the barge as well as their lives. Not only is an unknown murderer on board, but he is also part of a planned piracy excursion using the Cherokee as a go-between.
Given their location in the North Sea, an area in Danish territorial waters called German Bight, a region most prone to vicious storms, the Danish police are called in and here we meet Detective Inspector Erland Knudson and Assistant Detective Hedi Iverson. Boschert’s portrayal of these characters is so spot on it might be difficult to believe they are fictional. Knudson is smooth but realistically imperfect as he lets his subordinate take the lead to utilize the skills he’d seen her demonstrate before.
While the plot moves forward and the onboard, at-sea investigation evolves into a deadly game of cat and mouse, Iverson occasionally betrays her anxiety at her foray into what is typically male territory, but without losing either her credibility as a strong female detective or her dignity. Boschert has no need for a token female and Iverson never regresses into being one. She had assumed masks as all police do, but she’d never claimed to be anyone other than who she was. This unpretentious role will indeed attract more female readers, but with an endurance that goes far beyond the mere appearance of a woman character.
As events unfold, more information is divulged to readers than Patrick and his group as they stealthily aim to take back their barge and bring it to safety. At some intervals Patrick stumbles upon information that enables him to catch up to us, or at least get closer, though he has a few tricks up his sleeve as well, performances carried out while we are taken elsewhere or as we look away.
Forced up against the pirates’ superior position as well as their determination to carry out their nefarious plans, Patrick and the others must utilize their previous hard-living habits, not anymore as façade, but virtually a lifeline.
Ruthless, anonymous pirates aren’t the only challenge Patrick faces as the storms outside batter away at their “rust bucket”; radio communications are poor to non-existent and conditions in the German Bight become truly fearsome.
“German Bight. Wind: south nine to ten, backing ten to gale eleven, perhaps severe gale twelve later in the day. Seas: rough with waves in excess of forty-five [feet] or more. Rain: squalls and storms, possible hail. Visibility: low to poor.”
It is in conditions such as these, with horrific death beckoning from just over the rail, that sailors’ superstition can arise, especially given the understanding these men have of the sea, a most unforgiving mistress. They would certainly have known of the lands previously turned into islands, coasts broken to bits and a city such as Rungheldt, swept in its entirely under the sea by the Grote Manndränke all those years ago, though by no means had that been the last casualty.
“The hair on [Patrick’s] neck began to rise and he felt a cold chill pass through him, because what he saw was a ship. Not a modern steam ship, but a sailing ship of pure white with all sails set, and it came straight at them. Shit! “The Flying Dutchman”!
The ship flew towards them in eerie silence while he clutched the rails. He remembered what the legend said: The Flying Dutchman was a portent of disaster for ships and sailors who beheld it in a storm, for when they did their ship was in grave peril and would go down with all hands.”
As he and others battle with pirates as well as their own fear—of natural forces and human agents of evil—contact with land authorities is sporadic as those back in London become aware of certain activities, though not necessarily the connections between them all. Boschert knows exactly how to spin a yarn and draw gasps from readers who will find themselves unable to lay the book down. Throughout history the sea has captivated many, and Boschert effortlessly uses its allure to reel us in with a thrilling tale that ranks along with the very best in the industry. Readers will thrill, marvel, sweat and cheer as a delicate balance of anticipating and acting must be undertaken, and there are no second chances.
For book lovers of all genres, Force 12 in German Bight is a top-notch thriller that will take you to a world you may or may not know. Its gripping narrative will hurl you around with the storm as you follow the characters in their aim to best those who would destroy them first.
James Boschert’s unique biography has provided him with an in-depth knowledge of his novels’ subjects. He grew up in the colony of Malaya in the early fifties during the turmoil of a Chinese Communist insurgency. He joined the British Army at fifteen, and from eighteen to twenty-two fought in the jungle wars in Borneo and Malaysia. Afterwards, Boschert lived in the Middle East, serving in countries such as Oman, Lebanon, Israel, and finally Iran where he worked with the Shah Pahlavi’s army. When the 1978 revolution overturned the Shah, Boschert negotiated a perilous escape from Iran, returning safely to the United Kingdom.
As a civilian, Boschert has worked as an engineer on a tanker in the North Sea and as optical engineer involved in the development of laser telescopes at the National Ignition Facility in Lawrence Livermore, California.
James Boschert is the author of the popular TalonSeries. Set in twelfth-century Palestine, Talon‘s adventures include: Assassins of Alamut;Knight Assassin; Assassination in Al-Qahirah;Greek Fire; and A Falcon Flies. Boschert has also written When the Jungle is Silent, a novel about the 1960s jungle wars in Malaysia.
You can learn more about Boschert and his books at his website or Facebook. Force 12 in German Bight and all of the author’s books are available for purchase at Penmore Press.
The reviewer received a free copy of Force 12 in German Bight in exchange for an honest review.
This post was updated to include reviewer’s notation about copy acquisition.