A book by Louise Bagshawe
Yet another book I purchased in pursuit of 'chick lit'. She is described as a 'chick-lit' author but I do think this is an unfair and derogatory - there isn't a similar term to embrace low-rent male-oriented writers such as Dan Brown and Andy McNab.
When I bought this book I knew nothing about Louise Bagshawe except a name that I frequently see when browsing the 3-for-2s at WH Smith. I subsequently found out she is a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservatives; I didn't wish that to prejudice my reading or review of the book.
There is a lot positive to be said for the book. It has a page-turning quality, and is well structured. I found the prose style very readable and spotted few stylistic tics, no real contradictions and no slapdash syntax. About the only annoyance on that level was repeated use of the cliche/buzzword 'is a player'. Legitimate to use in dialogue, it's lazy to use in a descriptive passage about a (fictional) Sultanate.
It's a fairly good book straining to be a very good book. A racy and complex plot, demonstrating some impressive grasp of details. But, unfortunately, there are too many holes, inconsistencies and details lacking to consider it of any great merit. A few minor errors were irritating but shouldn't detract from the overall narrative:
- the hero, Will, takes the heroine, Melissa onto the Tube, takes an Oyster card from his pocket and swipes it twice to let them both through
- Melissa is initially described as a research fellow (at an English University) but is often described subsequently as a professor;
- Will gets 'designer' suits shipped from Saville Row (if they're Saville Row, they're not 'designer'; if he gets them 'shipped' they're just off the peg)
- Melissa and her father (really a Professor, of Physics) communicated occasionally by telephone and letter - he died a year before this book was set, which references the credit crunch, the Lehman collapse, YouTube and Flickr - but no emails!
- Melissa goes from 'soft and unfit' to being able to take a running jump between two Manhattan sky-scrapers 8 feet part, within days, as a result of working out, albeit for several hours a day
- There is passing reference to the President of the USA (ie he's not integral to the plot, merely exists) as being an impotent old fool with a son - if you're writing a fiction about a US President, of course it has to be a fictional one, but I believe it' s okay to namecheck real people in fiction if they have no involvement in the plot. In my opinion, Obama is the third consecutive US president without a son, who couldn't honestly be described as old
And they kept on coming!
The characters are unbelievably two-dimensional.
Will is described as having grown up in a Barnado's home; this is the explanation given for why Melissa's parents dislike him; there is a vague hint that his background was a motivation behind his success. But there is no further reference to this having an effect on his character, not once is he seen to wonder about or resent his ignorance of his parents.
Melissa, despite being a research fellow in history is never once portrayed as having even a passing interest in anything historical.
Will's fiancée Olivia is described as being a rich Socialite heiress who also happens to be a doctor, specialising in Oncology. As an American, she would have made the decision to study medicine post grad, and then decided further on what specialism, which seems entirely at odds with her portrayal as a shallow self-obsessed girl about town.
The other characters are cardboard cut-outs, which is tolerable for the narrative, but a better portrayal of the main supporting roles would have enhanced the book.
What is so stupid is the sheer lack of plausibility in the main plot-line.
!!!SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!!
Melissa's father has 'discovered' how solar energy can be generated to end the dependency of cars on oil. Within days of Melissa smuggling the solar cell to Israel they (Israel) are producing solar-powered cars and oil-rich states of the Middle East have collapsed.
Now I have to confess to knowing less about the science of renewable energy than Louise Bagshawe presumably found out from the internet, so I decided to take this from first principles.
I know from observation that the technology exists to generate solar electricity, at least in buildings. One of the obstacles is finding a way to store it for when the sun isn't working. I don't think it's going to take a massive breakthrough of theoretical physicists to do this; more a case of refining a process down to a practical usable level.
Supposing that this solar cell he invented has the capacity to solve this problem, there would still be work needed to develop a mechanism to transfer the energy to the car's engine. I don't think this is 'rocket science' but something that needs attention from mechanical engineers specialising in car design. I don't think this would be developed in Israel, and not just in a few days. They do have car manufacturers there, but innovative engineering design seems a lot less important than developing robust bodies.
And, even if all those arguments I present are complete tosh, even if it were possible to develop, in just a few days, vehicles with no dependence on oil, and assuming that the costs of running such a car made it an absolute no-brainer, it's still going to take several years for the worlds' car manufacturers to build capacity to meet the demand for hundreds of millions of fuel-free vehicles.
This doesn't address oil-fuelled air travel or heating/lighting fuel - either directly or to produce electricity and gas (although I suppose these could all be superseded by the solar cell!), and it doesn't consider the demand for oil to make any number of by-products.
I accept - and desire - that, in the long term, oil will be replaced by renewable energies, especially solar power. But I don't think this scenario has been properly thought through by the author and her editor.
The basic principles of producing solar energy are so widely known that it would be futile to kill the small handful of people who might know the details of Melissa's father's research. Similar research happens at numerous institutions throughout the world.
The book is predicated on the assassinations being crucial to stopping immediately and for ever the reliance on oil, whereas I contend that it could never happen immediately and that a cessation - or more likely a reduction - is going to happen eventually, anyway.
It's a shame, because the chase, the actions of the assassins and so on are entertaining reading. But the logical flaws in the plot and the lack of interesting/plausible main characters turn a potentially excellent thriller into a mediocre disposable read.