Friday, 30 August 2013

Alpha is a good book

Or why you should read Alpha by Greg Rucka

What would the prototypical modern thriller look like? Well it would probably feature a plot by Russian criminals or Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorists attacking some beloved American landmark with some kind of chemical, biological, or radiological weapon. Opposing these forces will be some kind of secret agent or special forces guy from some sort of unknown, hypersecret intelligence department. Maybe this protagonist is backed up by a sexy lady from another secret agency? Maybe the protagonist has a family and they are in danger somehow? Maybe the hero and the villain have some sort of past association or violent history? A modern thriller would probably look something like that.

And, it would probably be pretty shitty.

Alpha by Greg Rucka is a prototypical modern thriller. And it is FANTASTIC.

Alpha begins with the murder of a janitor by a park mascot in WillsonVille, an amusement park bearing a remarkable resemblance to a certain Happiest Place On Earth. Except the janitor isn't a janitor and the murderer might be part of a larger plot targeting America's beloved amusement park. To prevent this from happening Jad Bell, a highly trained Special Forces operative, is placed undercover as director of park security. The threat becomes a reality and Jad Bell finds himself in the midst of a terrorist incident in a crowded amusement park. An incident that promises to get much worse very quickly.

In many ways Alpha is a meta-thriller. It takes the the tropes common to the genre and crafts a story that, at least in the basic form of the plot, follows the common formula. But then you get to the details and the novel transcends its premise and revels itself to be this taught, smart, emotionally affecting novel. Rucka is nothing if not a master craftsmen. The plot of Alpha rockets along, with this meticulously crafted pacing that, like some kind of elaborate mechanical device, systematically ratchets up the tension as events unfold. Alpha is very much a rollercoaster worthy of the WillsonVille amusement park. But it is also a brilliant character study: Jad Bell, beyond being a likeable character, is a vehicle to explore the alienation and social cost modern soldiers experience, and the main villain of the novel provides this incredible glimpse into a person in his situation. And WillsonVille provides this great perspective into how Disneyland works: from the property licensing to the performers to the incredible behind-the-scenes logistics. I say this a person with zero interest in actually visiting Disney amusement parks (and whose partner may want to reproduce purely to draft tiny soldiers in her campaign to make me), but the mechanics of Disneyland are fascinating. And then there are these just amazing little snippets of beautifully crafted and  insightful prose sprinkled throughout. Rucka's writing is always great, but Alpha has these miniature discursions that just beg to be appreciated. Alpha is so much more than a by-the-numbers Thriller novel, even if it superficially resembles one.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for something that will sink its teeth into you. This is the kind of book that destroys time, that drags you in and holds your attention until you are done. It is the perfect airplane or commuter or vacation book. It is also a really smart, well written thriller that shows what can be done with the genre. If you are looking for a meta-thriller for smart people I would highly recommend it.

Finder, Keeper, and Smoker
Shooting At Midnight
Critical Space, Patriot Acts, Walking Dead 
A Fistful of Rain
Queen and Country: A Gentleman's Game, Private Wars, and The Last Run

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