Author: Eric Van Lustbader
Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge
First Sentence: "Everything comes to an end."
Summary (From the publisher):
An American senator, supposedly on a political trip to the Ukraine, turns up dead on the island of Capri. When the President asks him to find out how and why, Jack sets out from Moscow across Eastern Europe, following a perilous trail of diplomats, criminals, and corrupt politicians. Thrust into the midst of a global jigsaw puzzle, Jack's unique dyslexic mind allows him to put together the pieces that others can't even see.
Still unreconciled to the recent death of his daughter and the dissolution of his marriage, Jack takes on a personal mission along with his official one: keeping safe from harm his two unlikely, unexpected, and incompatible companions, Annika, a rogue Russian FSB agent, and Alli, the President's daughter. As he struggles to keep both women safe and unearth the answers he seeks, hunted by everyone from the Russian mafia to the Ukrainian police to his own NSA, Jack learns just how far up the American and Russian political ladders corruption and treachery has reached. And though Jack's abilities are as good as its gets, there is much more to gain—and lose—on this journey than the truth about the Senator.
My Two Cents:
When I first was approached to review this book, I was a little hesitant because, well, we all know my dislike for thrillers. But, upon researching Eric Van Lustbader, I discovered he was chosen by the estate of Robert Ludlum to continue the Bourne series. I love the Bourne movies, so I figured I'd give Van Lustbader's book the ol' college try.
I'm glad I did.
Last Snow is what a thriller should be: Tense, engaging and with enough solid characterization to make you care what happens to the people about whom you're reading. I really had to think through this whole book thanks to all the twists and turns and new revelations coming around every corner.
The main character, Jack McClure, is a close confidant of newly seated president Carson. He's also dyslexic, which apparently gives him a unique ability to piece together some pretty far-flung clues to come up with an answer. I'm not sure how much I believed this particular portion of the story, but I was easily able to suspend my disbelief and just pretend that Jack was really, really good at what he did.
I liked Jack a lot. He had just the right balance of tough-guy exterior and soft-heartedness to strike me as being a real person. Characterization, to me, is one of the main faults of thrillers, which tend to be so plot-heavy that the authors don't take enough time fleshing out their characters to satisfy my liking. Not with this book. I was able to get a real sense for not only Jack and the other main characters, but also some of the more minor characters.
Van Lustbader's prose is really easy to read. I wouldn't say that it's necessarily poetic or anything, but it is far above what I've experienced with many other thrillers (The short, choppy sentences that oftentimes aren't even complete sentences -- I hate that!) and it moves you along nicely. Here's an example:
He simply did not know any other way to live, if this was living at all, which he'd begun to seriously doubt. And therein lay the rub, as the good Bard wrote, he thought, because the only thing to fear was doubt. He knew from his mentors that the moment you allowed doubt to creep into your thinking -- doubt about your ability, about the people around you, about the dark and gravelike profession you were in -- you were as good as dead.
The plot was also very interesting. What started out as one mission for Jack turned into something else entirely, and every step of the way made sense in the end. There were times when I could barely read fast enough to find out what was going to happen next.
And the ending. Wow. Talk about a punch in the gut that you don't see coming. You think the book's going to end one way, but then something else completely happens and you're left stunned. I'm still not totally sure if I'm pleased with the ending, but I will say it was not one of those neatly-tied-up-with-a-bow kind of endings where all the bad guys are in jail and the good guys will fight crime another day.
Another little thing I liked, just because I'm a nerd like that, was that each of the three parts of the book opened with a literary quote -- two Shakespeare and one Edmund Spenser -- and there were literary references sprinkled throughout the novel. Every time I'd see a work I know referenced, I would smile a little bit, but that's just me.
If there's one criticism that I had about this book, although it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book at all, is that every single character seemed to have some kind of tragic or checkered past. Everyone had experienced some kind of unspeakable event or heartbreak, or had a family member with a major illness or disability. While I understand this is what helps a lot of readers relate to the characters, I just couldn't help but wonder if there were any people in Jack McClure's world who hadn't experienced anything catastrophic.
Overall, this was a really enjoyable read that put a little bit of my faith back in thrillers. Of course, I'm not going to run off and read anymore James Patterson anytime soon, but it was refreshing.
To win a copy of Last Snow and the prequel, First Daughter, click here. Contest open through 10 p.m. CST Friday, Feb. 19.