2007
11.15

[You’ve got to read this in-depth and honest review of Crossfire. It was posted as a comment by visitor Matt, but I thought it deserved its own post.–SixtySix]

Just finished Crossfire; it’s reasonably good fun and certainly the last third whips up the pace and the tension a bit.
I’m going to stray from the point for a little here, though, because I have to say, since the unbelievably atmospheric Dark Winter, McNab’s style seems to have changed so much. I don’t find his books – and this goes for Crossfire too – have the same suspense, atmosphere or descriptive hold on me anymore; and I’ll say this, since I read his first novel in ‘97 and up until Deep Black, I had simply never read a better thriller. I honestly used to feel like I was in a different world reading those books; it was a great escape for me, which I’d never experienced in another writer; he was truly a breath of fresh air.
From Deep Black onwards though, it seems that he’s either changed his style due to pressures from what his publisher perceives as the ‘right’ style of writing / storyline, or that it’s not him writing the books anymore, (or maybe the earlier ones were done by a ghost-writer!). Btw, I know an author who claims to ‘know’ he does use a ghost-writer, but personally I seriously doubt that, for several reasons.
Anyway, for me his last 4 books though just don’t have the intensity, descriptive detail, humour or (effective) unpredictability of the others; moreover the plots seem to stroll about a bit (slightly aimless) and in a way nothing much really seems to happen. I’m thinking in particular of the contrast between Dark Winter, Liberation Day, Firewall and the last four, where these incredibly good 3 previous novels seemed to flow towards some sort of objective / conclusion, with brilliant little bits of humour thrown in. Again, what happened to the little humorous bits??
Well back to Crossfire; certainly the beginning’s good; I’d say far too much time spent on the Iraq bits before the main crux of the plot (the murder of cameraman he’s BGing and the disappearance of his colleague, a journalist – not a plot-spoiler, all there on the dust-jacket!!), and again the action and scene-settings / descriptions were for me just too confusing to visualize. Things certainly get better in London where he meets the odious Yes Man again, after which it’s off on a well-written diversion to Dublin, where we neeearly have a really good stake-out / break-in / recce thing happening (remember how good those used to be, you could almost feel you were there? He’s lost the knack). Then off to Afghanistan, and the narrative gets a bit more like the old McNab again. Again here there’s little of the quirky character-traits of people he encounters that made you feel like you were there in the novels of old; with one exception; his hired driver says ‘maybe’ a lot and that’s quite amusingly handled (maybe…).
A lot of the Afghani section is interesting, but again there seems to be no consistent thread; lots of ‘dropped’ dialogue and narrative, in that stuff is said or mentioned but just seems to fizzle out; encounters with other characters are again not in the same visceral, engaging and realistic vein they used to be (pre-Deep Black).
As the remaining half of the book is effectively spent in Afghanistan, with not an awful lot really happening, I must say, there is some consistency at least from this point onwards. Again, the break-in / rescue scene that he does in most of his books happens but misses a whole dollop of suspense and tension and descriptive content that I thought was so engaging in McNab’s early novels. Do you remember that scene in Crisis Four where he takes a couple of chapters up describing how he breaks into the target’s house and creeps up the stairs with the bow and arrow? Here you get a page’s worth.
Again, later on old characters pop back into the plot clumsily and it all just gets a bit grim. But, from Stone’s inevitable capture to the end of the book, I have to say it’s a pretty consistently good read. The end is particularly satisfying and the last line of the book is good old classic McNab humour again.
Crossfire is slowly working McNab’s novels back into his older, more engaging style; lets hope the next one matches the magic of Firewall, Liberation Day or Dark Winter.
And if anyone knows what’s been going on with the drop in standard of his last few books, please let me know!

[Thanks again for the great review, Matt–I’m sure you’ll get some feedback regarding the drop in quality (I happen to agree with you 100%)–SixtySix]

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