A Gentleman's Game
Greg Rucka has been making a name for himself in the suspense genre for several years with his series of novels involving the enigmatic Atticus Kodiak. Rucka, however, is arguably best known to readers of sequential art collections (that would be comic books to you, fan boy!). He has been toiling mightily in that area for some years now, working on such A-list characters as Superman, Batman, Grendel, Wolverine and Wonder Woman. He has made what is arguably his greatest contribution to that genre with his own creation, a series of graphic novels titled QUEEN & COUNTRY, which involve the inner workings of a branch of a British intelligence agency. It is from the latter that A GENTLEMAN'S GAME, Rucka's latest novel, is drawn.
The focus of A GENTLEMAN'S GAME is Tara Chace, Minder One for The Division of Operations. She is, in less polite terms, an assassin, who is very good at what she does, which is to take out the bad guys --- the terrorists, who have the destruction of Great Britain on their minds and in their hearts. Chace does her job well and finds herself being offered up as a sacrificial lamb by the very agency, and country, to which she has sworn loyalty. Rucka deftly guides his reader through a complex plot, where agents are considered to be expendable commodities.
One of the more fascinating characters here, as in the QUEEN & COUNTRY books, is Paul Crocker, Director of Operations and Chace's superior officer. Crocker is a political animal who somehow maintains a balancing act between protecting the interests of Great Britain and those of his agents, even while one goal is at odds with the other. While one may occasionally differ with Rucka's worldview, he has a canny vision with respect to the manner in which the world ultimately works. While Rucka is quick to give credit to others when it comes to his insight, he is ultimately the channel through which this vision is communicated, and in such a riveting manner.
A GENTLEMAN'S GAME can only increase the width and depth of Rucka's readership. For those unfamiliar with his novels, there are the Atticus Kodiak books (among others) to explore. For those unfamiliar with his sequential art stories, QUEEN AND COUNTRY graphic novels await. And if you've been fortunate enough to read all of Rucka's work to date, you have the pleasure of anticipating his next novel. Recommended.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
Review II by Sean Doorly
Greg Rucka writes great thrillers with believable characters and situations. I discovered Rucka when I read KEEPER --- the first in his series about bodyguard Atticus Kodiak. I was immediately hooked, and I've read all of his books since then.
That brings us to his latest, A GENTLEMAN'S GAME, which is a cloak and dagger thriller based on a comic book, which he also wrote. Rucka has written many of the major characters in the comic book world --- Batman, Wonder Woman, and Elektra. With talented writers like Rucka, comics are not just for kids anymore.
In A GENTLEMAN'S GAME, terrorists linked to al Qaeda set off bombs in three London subway trains, killing hundreds. Rucka's description of these events seems scarily plausible. The first 50 pages or so deal with the terrorist bombings and the aftermath on how the British government will respond. There are some great parts in here, but it's a little slow going. Rucka gets bogged down in introducing a lot of characters and bureaucratic details, but just when I was getting bored, he delved deeper into the character of Tara Chace.
Chace, another in a long line of strong female characters from Rucka, is a British intelligence agent assigned to assassinate the mastermind behind these brutal attacks. She must track this person down, and her exploits take her to exotic locales like Cairo and Israel. She's a woman in the typical man's world of spying, thus the title. She's a tough, capable and smart woman --- echoes of Clarice Starling from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Chace is the equal and many times the better of any man she comes up against.
Along with strong character development, Rucka can really turn a phrase and has fun with his dialogue. Early in the novel, Chace is getting advice from another agent about the world of espionage and he says, "It's not the bullet with your name on it you have to worry about, Tara. It's all those damn other ones, marked 'to whom it may concern.'" Later in the novel, Chace comments on the unique qualities of her line of work: "Months of sitting on your soft end punctuated by bouts of bowel-freeing panic."
Another character I found intriguing was William Leacock. He's a young British man who has converted to Islam and is indoctrinated into believing that terrorism is the answer to his problems. With this character, Rucka offers a glimpse into the life of a terrorist. You find out why Leacock believes what he believes and what draws someone to this life. Rucka isn't painting a one-dimensional portrait of a terrorist, but he's also not offering excuses for Leacock's behavior. Throughout his many novels, Rucka makes his "villains" as compelling as his heroes.
This is a thriller we're talking about and strong characters and poetic descriptions are great, but what about the action? Rucka delivers in spades. He peppers the book with a series of action scenes that strengthen the plot and aren't just thrown in for the sake of having bullets and fists fly. He's a master at describing fights --- his resume includes being a fight scene coordinator. One hand-to-hand fight scene with Chace only lasts a minute, but the description is brutal, fast and nasty. There's even shades of THE BOURNE IDENTITY, where the characters use common, everyday items to deadly effect.
Overall, Rucka hasn't disappointed this long-time fan. The book progresses at a breakneck pace and the plot twists are believable. He has taken his strengths as a writer and gone into a new direction and locale. I never thought I would be reading British spy thrillers, but I'm looking forward to the next installment of the QUEEN & COUNTRY series.
--- Reviewed by Sean Doorly (Sean@Doorly.com)
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub and Sean Doorly (Sean@Doorly.com) on July 26, 2005