Splinter Cell: Checkmate (David Michaels)
Splinter Cell: Checkmate is the fourth book I'm reviewing based on the popular video game franchise (it is actually the third in publication order-oops!) and features Sam in a worldwide hunt to uncover an evil plan before it is too late. Sam's adventures are quite varied here, and a greater focus on the stealth element of his profession is much appreciated. Unfortunately, the central premise doesn't make a whole lot of sense and the story as a whole is something we've all seen a billion times before. There aren't many reasons to recommend this book to people in need of a quick action fix, but there is at least one very good reason to stay far, far away.
My least favorite thing about the plot, and the main reason why this book's story fell flat for me, was just how dumb the sense of urgency was. The author has the United States government immediately fly off the handle and target Iran for the tragedy despite having only circumstantial evidence that they were involved. US warships are stationed around Iran and only Sam can find the truth in order to prevent the US government from behaving rashly and stupidly for yet another time. Why does the US government have to rush into everything, even in books? Do they really think that attacking the wrong people for a massacre on American soil is better than waiting until you have all the facts? In the real world, the answer is probably yes, but in books I need a little more motivation and logic to buy something like this, or at least some kind of prior warning that the Joker apparently unleashed some hellacious nerve gas on the President's cabinet that made them all lose their minds. The poorly generated time constraints placed on Sam by his own governments' stupidity manages to not only discredit the work of the antagonists a bit, but it also manages to render this book even less comprehensible. That is probably a good thing though, because at this point I just turned my brain off and likely ended up missing out on five other things that made even less sense later in the book.
If you liked the previous books, the games, or any Tom Clancy novel ever, this will probably be a book that you can at least tolerate. It is by far the most action packed of the four Splinter Cell books that I have read so far, and in fact a few of those sequences manage to match the level of excitement seen in the video games. There is also a bit more sneaking around, which I really appreciated after the bone headed antics by Sam in some of the earlier books. There is a fantastic scene where Sam infiltrates a famous hotel, and another where he travels to Chernobyl to search for nuclear material. If you are willing to either ignore or accept the parts of the story that are ridiculous and contrived at best, this can be a reasonably enjoyable read.
Where characters are concerned, this is neither a stellar book nor a particularly bad one. Unlike previous entries in the series, there is very little focus on Sam's home life. While the first two books had him hooking up with a woman in his neighborhood and thinking about his daughter constantly, and the third had him avenging his adopted brother's death, this book steers clear of much personal interaction. In this it is more like the middle era of Splinter Cell games, and the formula works well enough although I would like to see a competent take on Sam's motivations and private life at some point. Instead, expect a lot of the dry humor and ruthless methods that Sam employs in the games, complete with his typical support group including Lambert and Grimsdottir. As with Sam, there isn't much to absorb from either of these two, but they have a few impressive moments when the need arises.
This book continues the sacred Tom Clancy tradition of having either a Russian, an Arab, or a Chinese/North Korean man as the antagonist. In fact, this book is so cutting edge that it actually has all three! The Russians (well, actually Ukrainians) are only opponents for a very brief time but they do play an important role in the story. Same with the Arabic characters: they show up a bit more but we never get in their head and they are basically just pawns. The central antagonist is some kind of Chinese drug lord. He is the only one we actually get point of view sequences for, which is a good idea except that he thinks in incredibly tired chess metaphors and is one of those types that is smart enough to come up with a reasonably competent plan, but not self aware enough to realize that smugly thinking about your perfect plan isn't enough to actually make it happen.
I don't even remember that much about the actual writing in this book. Why? Because it is easily the worst edited book that I have ever tried to read. I counted something like 35 errors in this book, and I'm sure I missed a few because I started tuning out in places. Look for plenty of extra words, incorrect tense usage, words misspelled that alter entire sentences, legitimate misspellings (how can this happen in the age of spellcheck?!?!?) and The best part is that this book is actually more expensive than your average paperback, with the list price set at $10.00. For that kind of price, 2-3 dollars above most books I own in paperback, you would expect a book with halfway competent editing. Instead, this book features enough typos, additional words, and other horrible mistakes to keep you from getting engrossed on any level.
This probably could have been a competent action novel to hold fans over until the next video game release, or just as light reading material on your next long trip, but there are too many issues plaguing it for it to be immersive in any way. A cheap and uninspired villain, increasingly convoluted mystery, and some of the worst editing you will ever see all help to bring this book down into the quagmire that the rest of this series occupies.