Taking the plunge into the waters of popular thriller-dom…

The Nemesis Program by Scott Mariani

Occasionally I read a mindless thriller, something a bit Dan Brown, just to remind myself that I’m not really the target audience for such stuff, although secretly I do enjoy them – a little!  My teenage reading diet was absolutely full of thrillers – Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes and later Colin Forbes, Frederick Forsyth et al – I loved them all, and many of these were well written taut books that got on with things with little padding. I was offered a copy of The Nemesis Program – the latest in a long series by British thriller writer Scott Mariani, and based upon one word in the blurb, thought ‘Why not.’

That word was ‘Tesla‘. The Szerbian scientist Nikola Tesla was a genius – he pioneered AC electricity, but Edison pushed him out of the way with his inferior DC current. He let go of his ideas for radio telephony and Marconi leapt at it. No wonder he got disillusioned and turned his mind to more controversial ideas – like the Tesla Oscillator a steam-powered electricity generator which could be tuned to resonate and with which he allegedly caused earth tremors in his building in New York, having to smash the device to stop a potential disaster. The Mythbusters TV team have determined that although you can set up a decent amount of resonance with such a device, you can’t amplify it to make an earthquake. But hey! – it’s perfect for a schlocky thriller as the weapon of choice for a mad scientist.

Ben Hope is ex-SAS, now a theologian, and about to get married to his girlfriend Brooke, when an old flame, Roberta Ryder turns up at his door in a Cotswold village in a mad panic – someone is after her. Roberta, an American in Ottawa, had received a coded letter from a friend in Paris, but by the time she reached Claudine – she had been murdered. The police think it was the work of a serial killer they’re tabbing Le Bricoleur because he used DIY implements to murder his victims. Roberta, however, knows a little of what Claudine was working on – a modern version of Tesla’s Oscillator, and sure enough she thinks she was followed in Paris, but she managed to evade them (she thinks) and headed for Ben – he’d know what to do.

Ben, three days away from his wedding thinks it is all a bit mad, but takes Roberta off to have a talk much to Brooke’s disgust, and then guys with guns arrive and he realises it’s real. He is duty-bound to help a damsel in distress, so after seeing off the would-be attackers, he postpones the marriage – Brooke tells him it’s over, and he and Roberta return to Paris thanks to Hope’s sister’s airplane that just happens to have landed at a nearby airfield bringing her to the wedding.

Already that’s one convenience too far isn’t it? The action continues from Paris to Lapland to Indonesia using the plane, always with the baddies following behind. The body count is high – there’s more excess than in any James Bond novel, and without the humour – it’s non-stop action.  Hope, of course, always manages to escape by the skin of his teeth, as in the quote below, a high-speed car chase in which he’s just driven over the edge of a raised section of the Périphérique …

For just a second or two, it was like floating. Ben experienced a strange sensation of weightlessness that was somehow liberating and not unpleasant. […] Then reality cut back in with terrifying speed as the Mercedes dropped like a missile towards the road below and the traffic lumbering in and out of the Port de Sèvres. Ben caught a glimpse of a huge articulated truck coming the other way and he was utterly convinced they were going to plummet right into its path and be smashed and rolled and twisted into tiny pieces all across the tarmac. But then the bone-jolting impact as the taxi’s spinning wheels touched down on the truck’s roof told him that death wasn’t going to be quite so instant. […] An inch difference in its trajectory and the car and its occupants would have been mangled against a steel rubbish skip.

It’s always an inch that saves Ben Hope every time.

Some of the dialogue is so cheesy too. When Hope finally encounters the criminal mastermind behind the Nemesis Program, it’s shortly after he’s dispatched another of his men…

‘…You’ve cost the project a great deal of resources and robbed me of several of my most capable agents. Men not easily killed. Yet you dealt with them with almost embarrassing ease.’ His lips wrinkled into a smile.
‘You mean McGrath?’ Ben said. ‘I’m afraid he went all to pieces.’
‘So it would seem. And now it appears you’ve disposed of Mr Lund just as efficiently, albeit without as much mess.’ The old man shook his head. ‘I don’t know how I’ll replace him. It’s so hard to find personnel of calibre these days.’
‘Have you tried Scumbags R Us?’ Ben said. ‘I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for.’

It was going so well in a sub-Bond way until Ben’s last reply…

Roberta as his girl-Friday is tough but subservient as all Bond girls are, but Hope is made of strong stuff and doesn’t bed her (she’d have been willing though).  So this is a sexless thriller – rather an oddity in this day and age – even Jack Reacher finds a girl in every town.  Also, Hope comes across as a soldier through and through – he knows what to do in an emergency – he’s rarely a fish out of water which makes him predictable and more than a bit boring.

At 431 pages, it took too long to read – under 300 would have improved it and sustained the tension better – it felt too episodic in the transitions. The bits of explanatory techno-babble are obvious and jar too, for babble they are. The thing about Bond villains and their weapons of mass destruction is that they’re pure fantasy, and the story is told with wit which makes it fun.  Here we had a fantasy weapon, a villain who wasn’t involved enough until the later stages, and very little humour to leaven the gore.

These books are extremely popular though – this was actually Ben Hope’s tenth outing.  Would I read another?  Well – if I was on holiday and the airline had lost the bag with my books in and one of these was on the shelf – of course I would.  But that’s an unlikely scenario. Fans will devour this instalment, I’ll go and read something else. (5/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Nemesis Program (Ben Hope)by Scott Mariani – pub Avon, June 2014, paperback original, 431 pages.

23 thoughts on “Taking the plunge into the waters of popular thriller-dom…

  1. Col says:

    Really liked this review – the excerpts are sort of hilarious! I will take your advice and pass on this unless I’m similarly marooned on holiday in Turkey while my bags and books are sunning themselves in Majorca!

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      I should have known better… the Bond villain trope just doesn’t work without a sense of humour. I am keen to read some more of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books though – they’re grounded and real.

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Great reveiew Annabel – I *do* like thrillers (read a lot of Alastair Maclean in my teens) but I tend to find the modern ones just too cliched – so much has gone before that it must be hard to come up with something new. I think I definitely will be avoiding this one…

  3. sharkell says:

    What a coincidence! I am listening to an audio book featuring Tesla – Addition by Toni Jordan. It is about a woman obsessed by counting (even counting the number of bristles on her toothbrush), and she has a photo of her hero, Tesla, by her bed. There are lots of facts about Tesla scattered through the book. It’s worth reading if you get a chance.

  4. Anokatony says:

    I had sort of the opposite experience. I generally don’t read genre fiction, but decided to read Louise Penny. After reading her police detective mystery ‘How the Light Gets In’, I want to read more.

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      I’ve seen some good reviews of that book. I enjoy genre fiction, but usually pick more literary titles than this one which is very much one for the supermarket bestseller shelves.

    • Alex says:

      Penny is definitely one of the better crime writers and that one of her better books, although I did have some reservations about the way she handles the double plot. Do read her earlier books but remember that some of them are journeyman work. The very best, I think, is ‘Bury Your Dead’. There is a new one due out in August.

      • Anokatony says:

        Hi Alex,
        Thanks for the tip, I will certainly look for ‘Bury Your Dead’ or the new one as my next Louise Penny. Rhe only other mystery writers I really like are Ruth Rendell and Daniel Woodrell..

  5. litlove says:

    I love a good thriller (we are all Jack Reacher fans in this household) but they DO make them too long these days with unnecessary padding. Even Reacher has been known to drive back and forth somewhat aimlessly on surveillance causing me to skip a few pages. And if the dialogue isn’t sharp then for me the pleasure takes a rapid nose-dive. Your quotes are hilarious in an entirely inadvertent way. Sometimes it amazes me what turns out to be popular, and I hope I can say that without sounding like a complete literary snob!

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      A thriller that is slightly more literary than average is always a great pleasure to read for me – more so if there are spies too. This one was just too witless and cheesy! They did used to write thrillers so much shorter – 250 pages was the norm, and usually all the better for it. They are getting too long, and I suspect the writers are being encouraged to pad – a chunky book looks better on the supermarket shelves (or is that just me being a cynic!)

  6. Carol S says:

    I began reading this genre with Ian Rankin who truly transports me to Edinburgh and Rebus’ world. John Harvey came next whose compassionate Resnick is wonderful, I think I believe he really exists! Until recently I’d left detective tales alone, sticking to literary reads only. Now I’m relishing them though your review here definitely puts me off Mr Mariani! Thank you. Who next?

  7. Carol S says:

    I finished reading John Harvey’s Frank Elder novels today, another lovely complex main character with a heart and a conscience. I’m truly hoping there will be more to come!

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