Tripwire

Tripwire

Note:  Steve Cole makes use of a lot of slang and British terminology in this book.  To help make it less confusing I’ve compiled a glossary of British words and slang.

Author: Steve Cole and Chris Hunter

Publication: Corgi Books, 2010

Pages: 256

Overall Rating: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Quantity of Action: High

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Day Zero – The day terrorists blew up Heathrow Airport in London, killing tens of thousands of people.  After that, plenty of laws were changed – including one that allows British kids to drop out of school at age 14 in order to enter the military.  Normally, they spend the first three years of their service learning a trade before entering active service at age 17.  The most exceptional young people are fast tracked into ATLAS training, a heavy duty three month course that guarantees them an officer’s commission in the military.  And within ATLAS, the most elite trainees – the best of the best – are offered a spot in Minos.  They move straight into active duty, running counter-terrorism ops and playing on their youth to accomplish things that would be impossible for an adult agent.

Felix Smith is their newest recruit.  He’s a bomb disposal expert whose father was killed while trying to defuse a bomb at Heathrow Airport on Day Zero.  Felix is thrilled to be part of Minos, part of the fight against the terrorists, but he has no idea what’s waiting for him.  Before long he’ll find himself on his own, tracking down a terrorist operation in Northern Iraq, only a knife edge away from death.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: This is a pretty straightforward, plot-driven action novel, and I more or less liked it for the action.  It’s not big on character development or emotion and the writing is standard at best, but the action is top notch.  And, since one of the authors is a former member of the British army and a counter-terrorism bomb disposal expert, the details are spot on.  Whether Felix is stopping a bomb, navigating a minefield, or blasting away with an assault rifle, the action feels authentic down to the smallest detail.

What I Liked the Least: This was a fun book, but I’m not sure the concept really worked.  Cole makes the basic argument used in most teen spy novels – a teen spy can go places and do things an adult can’t because people tend to overlook teens.  The problem here is that the mission Felix is sent on is NOT a mission that could best be done by a teen.  It doesn’t involve making friends with a terrorist’s kids, posing as a student in a private school where strange things are afoot, etc.  It involves crossing the Iraqi border on foot to investigate what happened in a village that was mysteriously wiped off the map.  Felix is a British teenager who doesn’t speak a word of Arabic or Kurdish.  He sticks out far more than an adult agent, who could at least pose as an aid worker or private contractor.  There’s no reason for him to be there, and no reason for this to be a mission taken on by teen agents.

Near the end, Cole paints Felix into such a tight corner that he can’t get him out without having an adult rescue him.  Felix still does a lot to save himself, but he can’t pull it all off without some adult help.  That was a bit of a letdown.  If Cole hadn’t pushed things quite so far he might have found a way for Felix to rescue himself.

Felix is just a little too quick with the smart comebacks, even when he’s in horrific pain and trapped in the midst of some god awful situation.  For example, even as he’s preparing to defuse a nuclear bomb with a crushed hand he still manages to tell the bomb, “I’ve come a long way to meet you…Frankly I wish I hadn’t bothered.”  Not long after that, while he’s still working to diffuse the bomb, Felix thinks to himself, “Least I won’t have time to bleed to death.”  Then we get the following exchange:

“’How long we got?’ Zane called.”

“’Bags of time,’ Felix replied.”

“’You shitting me?’”

“’Yes.’”

“’Thought so.  Appreciate that.’”

“’You’re welcome.’”

That kind of exchange in the midst of a dangerous situation is okay once in a while.  But done too often it gets a little annoying.

How Good was the Action?  As I said above, the action is excellent.  The bomb disposal scenes are incredible, which should come as no surprise considering that one of the authors worked on a bomb squad.  But all the other action scenes work well too.  There’s an excellent chase through the streets of Riga (a Latvian city), with Felix weaving through traffic at high speed, exchanging gunfire with someone in another car, and playing a game of chicken with an oncoming tram.  These scenes are tense, with excellent blow-by-blow details from someone who sounds like they really know what they’re talking about.  Once the action got started, it was impossible to put the book down until the last traces of gun smoke had cleared.

How Engaging was the Story? The book didn’t feel quite so engaging when the bullets weren’t flying – though admittedly, there weren’t a whole lot of moments like that.  Part of the problem, like I mentioned above, was that I just couldn’t accept the basic premise of the novel.  I didn’t buy the idea that, as a teen, Felix was in the best position to pull off this particular mission.  And that made me less engaged in the overall story.

The other basic problem was that Felix more or less acted like an adult soldier.  Unlike Alex Rider, Young James Bond – or just about any other teen spy out there – he had an assault rifle and knew how to use it.  So while there were plenty of moments where I was reminded that Felix was only 15, that basic fact – that he was out there wielding an assault rifle like any regular soldier – often made it hard for me to see him as a teen spy.

Overall Assessment: This is a good plot-driven thriller IF you can get past the premise and accept that Felix truly was the best person for the mission he was being sent on.  If that’s the case, then you’re likely to have a whole lot of fun with Tripwire.  You just need to immerse yourself in the action and stopping asking what Felix is really doing in Northern Iraq.

Profanity: Yes, and a lot of it.

Sex: None – except for a quick kiss at the end.

Violence: Plenty, and some if it is fairly graphic, but there’s very little blood to speak of and no gore.  That said, people do get shot and blown up in this novel.

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