Hector Cross is the head of Cross Bow Security, a protection team for hire. He has blood on his hands that he’s unashamed of, and has studied how the minds of terrorists work. The head of the Bannock Oil Corporation, Hazel Bannock, ends up having to swallow her pride and contact him, despite Hector joking one day she’ll desperately need his help. Off the coast of Somalia, a country infamous for ship sieges by modern-day pirates, her daughter Cayla ends up taken hostage by her supposed boyfriend, Rogier. Her capture ends up beneficial for the Sheikh for two big reasons: One is Hazel is one of the richest billionaires in the world and owner of most of the waters that I suspect interfere with the Somali fishing. The other is he has a feud to finish with Cross, and he’s been tasked with coming to Cayla’s rescue.
Wilbur Smith is by far my dad’s favourite author, and he gave me this book to read because he was sure I’d like it. He was semi-right for a part of it. More on that in a second. The synopsis, the cover, and the interior map of Somalia and its neighbouring countries made me get the impression this was a novelized version of Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, released two years after this book, and I wasn’t sure how any author would be able to turn a hostage premise on the seas into a big word-layered 386-paged book. After thinking about when I’d start the book for several months, I finally gave it a shot, and I’m sorry I have to do this to my dad. I put down this book in utter disgust, and not in a good way. You can be angry, sad, or even disgusted in a good way sometimes. Not for this title.
The synopsis I gave honestly makes it sound fun, and it sometimes honestly is. I actually do have a fair amount of positive stuff to say here. Even though the antagonists seem to thrive on typical revenge ideas and there isn’t enough to display the history of their overall personality and anger, they end up enacting torture scenes to Cayla, and torture scenes to what those in charge see as “criminals” that are very effective and cringe-creating. Cayla ends up suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a handful of men and Smith’s description of their lubricating and hairiness and willingness to cause pain is not held back. I couldn’t imagine suffering the way she was. And there are public executions that got under my skin, giving a good sense of danger.
And even if there’s enough words here to fill a 600-paged book at the height of books I generally read, the rescue ends up coming faster than you might expect. There were still some gimmicks that made these optimistic elements unable to promise a recommendation. The first bad thing I noticed was a sense of instalove. Hazel and Hector start a relationship so early and disappointingly it was actually a little painful how much better it could’ve been with a delay. I also noticed some very silly dialogue, bringing humour when anyone sane would be too terrified to say something out loud. Now, generally, mixed with these positives and negatives, I’d give maybe a 2 or 2 and a half. That was the first half of the book’s rundown. Then the second half arrives…
I hate to give too many spoilers, but I feel I have to justify my savage grade. The second half begins with a brake in everything, literally in both possibilities of the word. There are delays and skips forward, of apparently years. I generally find it okay to skip forward in the lives of characters maybe 5 or 6 months max, and, more acceptably, a few weeks, but if you have to race ahead as long as this story does, I think you should just start writing a new book instead. Pages of inactivity linger, attempting to make us care about the relationship of the characters more, except it’s both too annoying when we’re here to read about suspenseful action, and too little is said about what happens during this overlong period of time. Then there are some significant deaths where I wish we could’ve at least had a chapter showing how it happened. It was a missed opportunity.
Then we get the setup for another big showdown, which starts as not the worst ever, even if it has a completely illogical fake-out plan. We get some more nasty fights, and then page 343 comes, giving me quite possibly the most tasteless, sadistic and insufferably spiteful climax chapter I’ve ever read, maybe even topping the chapter in Cherub: Maximum Security when the mission is accomplished with disregard for the pain the “protagonists” have dealt, which isn’t far off in this one. Hector and a friend of his perform something even more vile than the acts I was talking about before, making them no better than the antagonists; making them monsters. If I was a judge with the authority, I’d have condemned these two to at least 15 years in prison, with a few rounds of waterboarding. You might be thinking I’m over-exaggerating. I’m really not, and I’m amazed Smith’s publisher agreed to have that chapter in there.
After reading that, I just wanted the whole ordeal out of my head, so I ended up just skimming the last twenty-five pages rapidly, the first time I can remember ever just not wanting to pay attention to the ending, the finish line, of a book. That chapter ended up erasing all sympathy I had for any of the “protagonists”. I’m not giving this book a zero, but it has the atmosphere of books I’ve given 1 star or half a star at first and then dropping them down to that. It’s actually depressing how much more of a better grade I would’ve given if not for that fatal error, and it’s depressing how I’ll have to tell my dad if he asks, that I’m giving a book he recommended to me a spot on my next worst book list. You want to read this book? My advice: Either don’t altogether, or read the first half and not bother.