Splinter Cell: Conviction (David Michaels)
The fifth in a series of books expanding the Splinter Cell universe, Conviction is a blatantly mislabeled title that seeks to cash in on the success of the most recent game in the franchise. Having very little to do with said game, and instead acting more or less as a conduit for yet another generic adventure, this time with an agonizing, elongated chase sequence and even less interesting characters. Though it was made with a bit more care than the previous book, the totally aimless plot and complete lack of urgency or significance makes this yet another failure for this maligned series.
This book quickly takes a nosedive during the opening act. Initially, we are treated to a fairly decent story of Sam working as a mercenary while trying to uncover some sort of conspiracy in Europe, which works well enough even if it seems to be a little beneath his usual stakes. After this brief plot point kicks off the novel though, everything goes downhill. Sam is pursued by a team of Splinter Cells for well over one hundred pages, with the action barely letting up. There is very little substance to all of this, and it starts to drag after about the third change of scenery. The tone of the book shifts completely, the author's attempts at making it suspenseful fail utterly due to an overabundance of tiresome details, and Sam's desperate flight from the Splinter Cell agents ends up being just a bit of filler dovetailing into what is yet another ridiculous international trek to stop another group of clichéd baddies. His quest takes him to Spain, Russia, Germany, and France, but there just isn't a sense of exoticism to anything. It's the same locales- warehouses, bunkers, office buildings, forests- that we have seen a dozen times before, and it's the same ruthless bad guys that Sam has killed in pretty much every single story he has been featured in.
For a book named after a video game, there is a surprising lack of connection between the two works, another enormous disappointment in a book full of them. Instead of focusing on Sam's desperate quest to find his daughter, unstable footing with Grimsdottir, or the terrorist plot of that game, this is a fairly generic adventure with the only real kink being that he has to run around for about 100 pages before he can get the good guys on his side, then go destroy yet another group of arms dealing thugs. The only real connection we have to the games is that Lambert is dead, and Sam is on the run (something which is pretty much thrown out the window after the chase sequence ends, though.) This deceptively titled book makes only a token reference to Sam's daughter, and ultimately it does nothing to enhance its source material.
There isn't a lot of characterization here. Sam could be any generic grizzled special ops agent, we get no insight into his mindset and his voice is severely butchered. Even the previous novels in this series would at least have Sam making wisecracks and being sarcastic, in this book he is pretty much toneless outside of a handful of decent interrogation scenes which did remind me of the game this is allegedly based on. As for the rest of the cast? Forget about it. Grim is adequate in her usual role as a support character, but the new batch of agents assigned to track down Fisher are utterly indistinguishable and very poorly written. The opposition is the usual mix of scary foreign people and insidious double agents, though Zahm, a former SAS operative turned novelist turned bank robber, seems like he could've actually been a fairly interesting character in different hands.
While this series has made a habit out of being an unedited, typo-riddled mess, this book actually manages to buck that trend rather comfortably. I only caught one typo in this entire book (wrong use of "too") and that is a substantial improvement over the previous novel, and definitely something I can live with as a reader. Of course, it still isn't a particularly well constructed novel and it seems that there has been an author change for this volume. There are even more mindless details than before, and far too much repetition of the whole "end the chapter with a cliffhanger, start the next chapter after the cliffhanger, then have the main character reflect on how he escaped" gimmick. That shows up like six times! The amusing product placement that has shown up sporadically in this series (and far more in the Ghost Recon book) is also in full force here as Sam, despite having a top of the line GPS/internet enabled device known as an OPSAT, is conveniently forced to also rely on Google Maps/an Ipad to make his way through the plot. I guess if it helped finance an actual editor, it can't be such a bad thing. Conviction may not be as offensive to a paying customer as previous novels in the series, but it certainly doesn't manage to delight with its prose.
Conviction is a perfect example of one step forward two steps back for this series. Progress comes in the form of an actual editor, so we don't have to endure atrocious spelling mistakes every other page, but there is also plenty of regression as this book seems to have forgotten both its plot amid one of the most tiresome and elongated chases you are likely to ever see, and meaningful characterization, which to be fair has always been hard to find in this series. Worse still, it barely even ties in to the video game of the same name, instead giving us some random and difficult to understand adventure set (I presume) before the events of the game. Avoid at all costs.