Monday, October 5, 2015

Black Mountain (Alex Hunter #4)

Now that James Rollins has started writing more military action thrillers with a marked decrease in Strange Monsters, I have to go somewhere else for my killer xenobiology fix.  Greig Beck has been one of my favorite choice, particularly because the main character, Alex Hunter, is a genetically-modified super soldier who does REALLY AWESOME FIGHTING THINGS.



That, ladies and gentlemen, is an example of writing being deprofessionalized by excitement.  Reading a Beck book is like watching Vin Diesel or Jason Statham movies.  They're fun, they're action-packed, and they generally don't make you think too much.  Plus, they know that they're rather silly, so everything's taken in good humor.

Unfortunately (oooh, there's the dreaded transition word!), Black Mountain is the weakest of the Alex Hunter books so far.  I think it's because we don't see very much of Alex, codenamed Arcadian, himself.  There's a lot involving other team members, who just aren't as fun as Arcadian is.  The other thing is that Beck is not afraid to kill characters off.  Don't get too attached.

I'm not saying this is by any means awful.  No, no.  It was fun.  It was about Sasquatches!  But there were a lot of little problems that decreased my enjoyment of the book.

First of all, as I mentioned, there's the near non-existence of Alex Hunter in the book. When he does appear, it's with his Mossad-agent-minder/lover/kind-of-stalker Adira Senesh. who suddenly became much less interesting.  Hang on, I feel a flashback coming...

Whoomp, there it is!  Okay, so as I recall, Senesh was a pretty cool character because a) she was a double-agent (and if that was a spoiler for you then you clearly haven't read the first books in the series and it's clearly stated in Black Mountain) and b) she could beat anyone in a fight except the Arcadian.  I mean, she kicked the pants off all the other 'roided-up, yeah-bruh fighters in every scene she was in.  Plus, she was exceedingly tough.  Get stabbed?  NBD, keep going.  Repeatedly punched in the face?  Punch the other guy five times as hard!

But then.  Of course tough-as-nails Adira can't just, you know, cruise on and be her own butt-kicking machine.  She has to fall in wuv with Alex.  So this whole, "Hey, so, I hear the Arcadian's body is infected with this virus that sort of eats you, so he needs to be frozen, so why not fake his death and let us, the Israelis, take care of him?" is a weird ploy for Senesh to get Alex all to herself.  If he survives.

I mean, well, obviously.  But given Beck's track record of maiming or killing off relatively important characters ... one never knows.

Anyhoodles, so Alex wakes up under Mossad care, but his memory is gone.  He's told that he's an Israeli agent recovering from an accident, and Adira becomes his minder.  Translation: they do lots of flirty stuff until the pain of Alex's recurring memory flashbacks becomes too much to bear and then BOW CHICKA WOW WOW.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in the Appalachians ...

A rock slide opened a vault that should never have been unsealed.  The mountain-belly cage of giant humanoids who, tens of thousands of years ago, battled their homo sapiens slave-drivers (just roll with it) and lost.  They're huge, they're hairy, and they like to eat people.

Sasquatch, anyone?

When residents of the small town where Alex Hunter's mother lives start disappearing, with only a rank stench to alert the authorities that anyone or anything had been there, a former member of Alex's team, Matt Kearns, swoops in to investigate.  There's a bunch of paleo-linguistic analysis and DNA matching, and they find out that this monster is related to modern-day humans, but it's a monster.  In steps the oh-so-convient Magical Native Person.

Okay, I understand that Beck is Australian, so his concept of Native Americans is probably based on the media.  And, granted, he does make his Native American character self-aware of these stereotypes and he does have some funny lines.  But, one would think that coming from a continent with Aboriginal Australians ... I would have thought that he'd leave this alone.  Silly me!  What was I thinking?

Usually, in these types of monster novels, there's always a secondary threat.  The main threat is the monster, and usually, the secondary threat is another military force trying to defeat Our Hero(es).  Here, the mad scientist who created the Arcadian serum has killed hundreds of soldiers trying to replicate his success with Alex Hunter.  Finally, one batch appears to have worked.  The soldiers didn't melt, or lose their minds, or be unable to fight.  Sure, they're extremely aggressive, and yeah, the whole skin-falling-off thing is problematic, but eager to prove himself, these Arcadians are sent out after The Arcadian.  I wasn't quite sure why everyone wanted to kill everyone else, but I suppose I'm just supposed to be like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

As I stated before, the main weakness of this novel is that it doesn't prominently feature its most interesting character.  Another issue is all of the side plots going on.  It distracts from the main narrative.  In the first book, Beneath the Dark Ice, there really wasn't any way for the narrative to tangentially meander, because it was following a group of people stuck underneath the Antarctic ice with monsters.  It's kind of hard to bring in: the Mossad, the police, the FBI, and other Secret Government Types when the team is literally trapped.  That's what Beck needs to go back to.

All in all, if I told you, "Alex recovers from his infection and Senesh gets out of the picture," you'll be perfectly fine in skipping Black Mountain and moving on to the next book.  If, like me, you need a little more Squatchin' in your life, go ahead and read it.  It won't hurt.  Much.

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