Well, I was in the mood for another thriller. And, after enjoying Matthew Reilly’s “Ice Station” a few weeks ago, I thought that I’d take a look at the other Reilly novel I happened to spot in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year. I am, of course talking about Reilly’s 2001 thriller novel “Area 7”.
Although this novel is technically a sequel to “Ice Station”, it’s a fairly self-contained novel that can be enjoyed without reading “Ice Station” first. But, if you’ve read “Ice Station” first, then you’ll see a few familiar faces again and get slightly more out of a couple of moments and small sub-plots.
So, let’s take a look at “Area 7”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a lecture transcript that discusses the role and history of the office of the US president, before showing an extract from a conspiracy theory magazine about the mysterious death of a US senator called Jerry Woolf.
Then, the story jumps over to Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas. A former general called “Caesar” Russell is due to be executed for murder and treason. His last request is to watch the inauguration of the new president on TV and whilst he watches it, he muses about a scheme to secretly implant microchips into the hearts of important people. After this, he is taken to another prison and executed via lethal injection. However, a few minutes after his body is taken away, he is secretly revived using a defribrillator and hyper-oxygenated blood.
A few months later, several experimental plasma warheads are found hidden and fully armed in several major airports. Meanwhile, in the Utah desert, Marine Captain Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield is accompanying the president on a helicopter tour of several secret underground military bases in the desert. When the group arrive at Area 7, they are greeted by the elite masked commandos of the Air Force’s 7th Special Operations Squadron.
As the President descends into the base, Schofield and the other marines wait around in the hangar above. Schofield then notices that the troops from the 7th have suddenly taken up offensive – rather than defensive- positions around all exits from the hangar. Seconds later, they open fire on the marines and a battle ensues. Meanwhile, the President watches a demonstration of a new vaccine designed to protect against a bio-weapon. But the demonstration is suddenly interrupted by a video broadcast by Caesar, saying that he has taken command of the base…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 Yes, it is little slower to really get started than “Ice Station” was but – after about the first 80-90 pages or so – it’s nothing but grippingly thrilling non-stop spectacular ultra-fast paced action 🙂 Like with Clive Cussler & Graham Brown’s “Zero Hour“, this novel is one of the best action movies that you’ll ever read 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t going to win any literary awards, but if you want a book that is like an incredibly fun 1980s-90s action movie “turned up to eleven”, then this one is well worth reading 🙂
As action-thriller novels go, this one is really well-constructed – with a brilliant mixture of suspenseful mini-cliffhangers, cool gadgets, tense time-limits, claustrophobic underground scenes, several competing groups of villains, multiple plot threads, acrobatic stunts, large and small-scale drama, spectacular open-air chase scenes, numerous fast-paced combat sequences (including gladiatorial combat, helicopter duels etc… in addition to the usual gun and fist fights), spectacular set pieces and one of the best uses of Chekhov’s Gun that I’ve seen in a while too (seriously, when you see everything on the fourth floor of the facility, you’ll know what I mean).
Thanks to this immense variety of thriller elements, this is one of those rare thriller novels that can function at full intensity for most of the story without ever getting dull. And, in classic Reilly fashion, this novel is ludicrously and gloriously “over the top” in so many ways 🙂 The best way to describe this is to imagine a Michael Bay movie with absolutely no budgetary or practical limits whatsoever. Leaving aside the numerous spectacular explosions and gunfights, this also includes brilliantly clever location designs and numerous awesome set pieces that take place on land, air, water and… well, I won’t spoil it.
Whether you enjoy all of this or not will depend on how much you can suspend your disbelief. If you take a more “rational” or “realistic” view of this story, then it will seem extremely silly. But, if you can suspend your disbelief, then you’ll be rewarded with the kind of amazingly spectacular action-fest that, even almost two decades after it was written, can still easily surpass even the highest-budget Hollywood films. Seriously, if you want to see an example of how books can be better than films, then read this one!
And, continuing with the action movie theme, one of the cool things about this novel is that – although it was published in 2001 – it is actually more like a gloriously fun 1980s-90s action movie (think “Broken Arrow” meets “Die Hard”, but on steroids) than a more serious, topical and gritty 2000s one. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it was clearly written (and is set) before 9/11 happened.
Not only does this mean that there are a lot of spectacular aircraft-based scenes that would have probably been considered “too soon” if the novel was written a bit later that year, but the novel also deals with the topic of terrorism in a very pre-9/11 kind of way too – with the villains being various evil secret societies, fanatical right-wing groups etc… (with incredibly contrived evil schemes) rather than the religious extremist villains that would become more common in the genre later in the decade.
So, this novel is also a glimpse into the later parts of the more innocent age between the end of the cold war and 9/11 – where thriller writers couldn’t just use the news for inspiration and, instead, had to come up with unpredictable and creative plots for their stories. All of this results in a much more fun and “feel-good” thriller story than the gloomier, grittier and more “topical” thrillers that would characterise most of the 2000s.
In terms of the characters, they are the kind of stylised characters you’d expect in a story like this. Although there is a bit of characterisation for a few main characters and some of the villains, this is more of a plot-focused novel than a character-based one. In fact, in the author interview at the end of the edition I read, Reilly actually states: “I want to write about action and thrills and adventure, and if developing characters slow down the action, then developing characters get the chop!”
Still, there is just about enough characterisation here to make you care about what happens to the main characters. Plus, one amusing thing about this novel is that – although the US President is never explicitly named – from a couple of physical descriptions, the publication date and some references to the time period the story takes place in (eg: mention of a Playstation 2 and Jar Jar Binks, and the most recent other president mentioned in the opening segment being Bill Clinton), he is most likely based on G. W. Bush – which makes the parts of the novel where he gets to be a bit of an action hero absolutely hilarious to read in a cynically ironic way.
As for the writing, it is a Matthew Reilly novel from the 2000s. In other words, the third-person narration is written in a fairly informal and “matter of fact” style that – whilst it probably breaks numerous stylistic rules and is unlikely to win any literary awards – adds a lot of extra speed and intensity to the novel. Yes, if you’re new to this author, then you might find his writing style to be a bit corny, awkward and/or immature at times, but it works. Don’t ask me how, but it works! Like with Reilly’s later novel “Seven Ancient Wonders”, this novel is one of the most well-written “badly written” books that you’ll ever read.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 Although it is a fairly hefty 565 pages in length, these pages flash past at incredible speed – meaning it’ll take you as long to read as a 250-300 page book usually would. And, although the story takes a little while longer to really pick up speed than “Ice Station” does, most of this book feels even faster-paced and more gripping than that novel did. Seriously, if you want a lesson in good, consistently fast action-thriller novel pacing, then read most of this one 🙂
All in all, this novel was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want to read something that is even more spectacular than even the highest-budget action movie, then you’ll enjoy “Area 7”. Yes, it takes a little longer to really get started than I’d expected (and the writing style may put some readers off) but, if you stick with it, then you’ll be rewarded with a gloriously intense and over-the-top 1990s-style action-fest of a story 🙂 Just remember to suspend your disbelief before reading it though.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.