Monday, February 12, 2018

Book Review: The Amazon Code (Harvey Bennett Thrillers Book 2) by Nick Thacker

An Action-Packed Adventure…But Psychics?

At its heart, The Amazon Code is action/adventure, with all the extreme feats and unlikely events that this genre implies.  Set in the Amazon (obviously), it becomes a veritable catalog of the gruesome ways someone might die in that world – hostile natives, vicious creatures, unforgiving habitat.  Then, add to that mix a shadowy and utterly ruthless organization committed to your demise and the stage is set for some hair-raising action.

The potential reader should view this book’s listed genre with skepticism, in my opinion.  On Amazon (the online store, not the region), the book is listed as Psychics, as well as Action & Adventure.  I don’t get it.  With the references to neuroscience, as well as the author’s synopsis mentioning “emerging science,” I was thinking technothriller.  For example, the clues that drive our protagonist, Harvey “Ben” Bennett, to the Amazon come from fMRI-based videos of people dreaming, a capability that appears close at hand.  But perhaps the author went with the psychic category because the link to science is weak with more hand-waving in crucial places (how did they get that map?) and niggling errors (e.g., the incorrect definition of fMRI) than one would hope.

The second precautionary note for potential readers is that you may want to start with book 1 – always a good idea, but maybe more so for this series, because you are joining an on-going story.  Ben is single-mindedly pursuing a ruthless organization he faced in book 1, even though he’s totally unsuited to the task.  He’s a park ranger.  The villains are part of a clandestine group unencumbered by ethics and at ease with the use of extreme violence.  Hopefully, his obsession is explained in the first book, because the attempt to attribute it to his personality in this book just doesn’t work (“Ben was just being Ben — stubborn, boorish, and reclusive”).  Lots of people share those traits, but none of them go to the Amazon based on a rumor, untrained and unprepared, hoping to form a rag-tag team with the right mix of skills to win the day.  Ben, however, does.  It’s good suspense, but a bit inexplicable even for action/adventure.

The Amazon Code also has the somewhat unusual distinction of being loaded with action – chases, gun fights, grisly deaths – and yet, it feels slow.  Part of the reason is that chapters are written from the perspective of different characters, so with each change in point of view, the reader gets another recounting of the hopelessness of their situation.  Additionally, each character recounts events from their lives in general.  The technique can greatly aid character development, but it’s overused and sometimes makes little sense.  I was never sure, for example, how either Ben or Julie saw their relationship, beyond the fact that they thought it was something they couldn’t escape (“Hours of arguing and slamming doors had taught her that there was nothing that could force them apart, except, ironically, death”).  Is that supposed to be romantic?

So, for the reader who can suspend reality a bit and who doesn’t require crystalline characters, The Amazon Code can provide a decent rush of intense action…and a long list of ways to die in the Amazon.

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