The Survivor – Tom Cain
Like Four Past Midnight and Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book reviews I did for this blog, I picked this one up at the book drive my NaNoWriMo regional group did in December. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that it’s actually the second book about Samuel Carver, and unlike most of the Jack Reacher novels, there is some continuity involved. However, while Tom Cain doesn’t bother to sit uninformed readers down and fully explain things, it didn’t take too long to understand the situation, and it didn’t really detract from the story.
Samuel Carver is a former Royal Marine turned assassin, who has been left severely traumatised by a mission gone bad, and is left recovering in a Swiss mental hospital. His girlfriend, former KGB seductress Alix Petrova, is faithfully taking care of him, until some Russian higher-ups unexpectedly get in touch and coerce her into carrying out more work for them. Following Alix seemingly abandoning him, Samuel regains his memories and sets out to find her – and in the process, gets involved in a big conspiracy involving a retired US general, a list of hidden suitcase nukes, and a dying born-again businessman who wants to start Armageddon.
This book is classed as a thriller, and it’s definitely very thrilling. The prose reminds me of The Da Vinci Code, which for all its flaws, was a very thrilling book too: it’s fast paced, engaging and easy to follow. The action scenes – which include a chase between Carver in a car and some hostile Russians in a helicopter, in true action thriller style – are generally very good, with the exception of the climax. This was the one real let-down of the book: it went by too quickly, didn’t feel quite as exciting as the rest of it, and ends at an unsatisfying point.
But just about everything else here is great. As hinted above, it’s a very complex plot, with lots of different parties with different motivations involved. But somehow, unlike many other books, you don’t get totally lost; you can generally understand the situation at each given moment, and all the different strands of the web just serve to make the story more compelling. The characters are all fleshed out; even most of the ‘bad guys’ do have reasonable human sides to them – with the exception of the aforementioned businessman, Waylon McCabe, but at least you understand his motivations. Samuel Carver himself isn’t a cardboard cut-out action hero; even when he’s largely recovered from his trauma and snaps back into his killer mode, he’s a believable person and shows some vulnerability. Some other reviews I’ve read complained that his romance with Alix isn’t believable, but I personally accepted it well enough.
As a simple thriller, The Survivor gets almost everything right, and I’d definitely like to read more by Tom Cain. Rating: 4/5.