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Below the Thunder by Robin Duval
Publisher: Matador
Publication date: 01 February 2013
ISBN: 9781780883830

What the blurb says:

One Summer eveing in Bavaria, fortyish history professor Bryn Williams – more Frasier than Bond – falls simultaneously into love and mortal danger. He becomes a target for MI6, Mossad and an American hit man.

Oblivious to his predicament, he continues his holiday in America. Walking alone in a National Park, he stumbles on a newly dead body. He is arrested for murder, and release only when evidence of a third party emerges. But when he discovers the identity of the killer, and reports it to the San Francisco police, his motel room is blown up. With no-one to turn to, he flees north.

He is intercepted in the mountains by a cousin, who works for MI6. And by the woman he fell in love with in Bavaria. They persuade him – against his better judgment – to help frustrate a plot to destroy the American President. He is drawn into a web of conspiracy and deceit whose true nature only gradually becomes apparent. 

As the narrative races towards it unexpected and shocking climax, the hero discovers untapped reserves of talent – as lover and as man of action.

Is it just me or did that just give a way a hell of a lot of the story? Pretty much all of it to be honest – a seemingly poor move in the political-thriller genre. I think I should have known better when I read the ‘more Frasier than Bond’ comment. I can’t stand Frasier.

There are some serious problems with this novel – some good points too, which I will get to in due course. Firstly, it was extremely verbose. Too many adjectives and adverbs – even in the short sentences – and this slowed down the pace drastically. The choice of language also seemed off for a thriller, albeit one in which the protagonist is a professor. Anachronistic, for example, is not a word that belongs in a descriptive sentence about a jukebox. It belongs in the historical context section of an academic essay. Ok? Ok. Glad we’ve got that sorted.

Plot-wise, I didn’t really feel that it was plausible that a cousin would know their other cousin was an MI6 agent, let alone ask them to help out on an international problem. Brother would have been better. The love interest also baffled me, I had to reread a few sections several times because I thought that I must have missed something that turned the completely platonic relationship between two people into ‘love’. The plot seemed very linear, I wasn’t gripped with suspense as it didn’t seem like the story was particularly driving to anywhere.

My main problem – and I don’t know if it’s just me with my feminist tendencies – was that I felt the underlying tone of the novel was quite sexist. On several occasions the protagonist made me feel irate with his assumptions about women. I paraphrase a little but ‘Agnete was something even scarier, an independent woman.’ It made me really annoyed, to the point that I showed my flatmates these sections. I also thought it was similar with racial stereotypes, especially in the section around Oakland in California (a place I’ve actually studied in). But please, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the author was being deliberately and maliciously and making stereotypes – it felt like it was coming from someone a little out of touch and naive.

Good points: The political context was very interesting and showed a huge depth of knowledge. I would have liked to have seen more of this, perhaps breaks in which the narrative switched to those of MI6 or the baddies, so to speak.

I would like to thank the publisher for kindly sending me a review copy.

1/5

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