“There is no honor among thieves”, is a recurring theme in this book. From the very opening chapter to the last few chapters, the book is a roller coaster ride of deception, turning heels, misplaced trust and a very thoughtful look at Saddam Hussain, depicted as cold, cunning and calculating (but then again, that is how he is depicted in almost every book I have read).
The book is quite fast paced, specially towards the ends where our heroic fellowship escapes from
Modor Iraq. They escape an onslaught from pretty much the whole Iraq army, as they (all four of them) escapes into the friendly havens with the prize stolen from them. Yeap, this novel is of heroic proportions that has the main characters bamboozle their way out of enemy zones with a whole f**king army on their trail. And they are driving an old car out of Iraq, while the said army is chasing them with choppers, army vehicles, weapons of mass destruction, nukes and so on.
I had a hard time finishing this novel. Which I myself found surprising as this is a Jeffrey Archer novel that is highly rated and I expected to be immersed in the fast paced action, combined with the involvement of Mafia, CIA, Mossad and Saddam’s cronies, but the end result is… lack luster. Maybe if I read this book when Saddam was still around, maybe if I read it at a time when Saddam could possibly had a WMD or a nuke, then this book might have been an interesting read. Now the end result is about a bunch of heroes, who in their own way had been done wrong by Saddam, working through all of Iraq to teach him a lesson of humility. It’s very western-centric, probably hitting the right glands of the western brain, but for me, the end product was a western drama that bordered too close to improbability. They had the whole army after them, for crying out loud! The heroes and heroines were not able to carry out their guises for long, in fact, the enemy new about them even before they were in Iraq! Logic states that this story should have ended in a very different way, but any one reading the book will be treated to a happy ending that is worthy of a Hindhi musical number.
Well, there were good parts too, but too far and few to pick around. The part that struck a chord with me is Bertha, the inanimate character introduced in the later half of the book. Without spoiling too much, Bertha brought about a much needed humor for the book, the kind of humor that uhh… could be enjoyed by anyone, irrespective of race and religion. That was a bit of ingenuity by the author and every part where Bertha is described has been penned down to tickle your funny bones. Bertha is also introduced into the story rather conspicuously, dropped into the story line when it became necessary, without any prior fore shadowing as to her nature, purpose or even, existence. Seeing how Bertha was absolutely necessary for the story line, perhaps her introduction a bit earlier would have helped.
The bad stuff then. Without spoilers, because its possible to talk about more bad stuff with spoilers. I could rummage through the book from the opening page to the end, but would be hard pressed to find any Iraqi that’s been presented in good color. Either he/she is corrupt, evil, easily manipulated, pervert, stupid, incompetent and … you get the idea. Unless he/she is a Kurd or Kurdish origin, in which case that character is salt of this earth. That is just not realistic, man. A whole country cannot be stereotyped like this. The book also gave away the ending a few chapters before it should have. Lets say you are reading a fairy tale, in which the main character is hunting in pursuit of some amenable treasure. Said treasure is just at the tip of your fingers when it falls into a pile of shit. Has that happened in any fairy tale? No, right? Read the novel and you will notice the exact moment when the treasure in this fairy tale falls into a pile of shit, and you realize that this isn’t the real thing after all.
I found previous Jeffrey Archer novels a much better read, and seeing how this book was highly rated, I approached it with much optimism. Maybe the next novel, The Eleventh Commandment (also by Jeffrey Archer) won’t let me down.