And Then…And Then…

Reading an action/adventure novel is a bit of paradox, isn’t it? I mean, if one wants action and adventure, why is one curled up reading a novel? Surely it must be better to go out and do some physical roughhousing yourself, or at least take in a movie where there are visceral thrills like car chases, explosions, mayhem, etc. Well, the fact is, if you’ve see all the decent action films, and frankly there aren’t really all that many of them, and you’re up for some cerebral exercise to stimulate the senses, the genre of action/adventure novel can indeed give your brain a workout.

Never a big fan of the aforementioned literary category, I do from time to time dip into it just to work up a good sweat in my medulla oblongata. And frankly I must admit to increasing my blood pressure and heart rate a bit while reading Owen West’s Four Days To Veracruz. It’s one of those pulse-pounding, page-turning, chapter-pinballing tales we’ve all come to know and love in this age of Tom Clancy novels with hero’s like Jack Ryan, and TV shows like “24” with hero’s like Jack Bauer…wait a minute, do I detect a pattern here? Must all action/adventures have a hero named Jack? No. But don’t be surprised if most of them do.

As it is, there’s not one Jack that I can recall in Mr. West’s tale of a young honeymoon couple caught up in drug running, serial murder, terrorism, international intrigue and political infighting. And that brings up another point. Why do most action/adventure novels have to incorporate multilayered plots to hold the reader’s interest? Wouldn’t serial murder alone do the job? Perhaps not. Anyway, let me get my bone-picking out of the way first before I go on to tell you why I actually liked this novel and you might too.

Straining credulity is something virtually all action/adventures do. And to the degree the author can keep that to a minimum, the more successful he or she is. Mr. West puts it to the test right away. Not only are his hero and heroine young, breathtakingly beautiful and head-over-heels in love, they also both happen to be superb athletes. Both, like the author himself, Eco-challenge athletes, who chew up Iron Man competitions like they were romps in the park. Of course, this particular facet of the characters’ backstory is important because they are literally going to be chased (mostly on foot) from Acapulco (on the west side of Mexico) to Veracruz (on the east side of Mexico). And I guess if they were regular slobs like most of us, credulity would not only be strained, it would be blown to bits.

Okay, so credulity aside, there’s also a rather by-the-numbers plot. The youngsters get mixed up with narco bandits. Not their fault, of course. To keep from getting raped (her) and getting killed (him), they have to blast their way out of the bad guy’s lair. When they do, and escape to the police, would you believe the policeman in charge turns out to be the bandit’s brother. So, of course, they have to shoot their way out of the police station, killing Federales and bystanders alike, and take it on the lamb. The rest of their story involves a devastating hike across the continent to avoid police, military, bounty hunters, dogs, children, the rest of the narco gang and the serial killer who’s been co-opted by the corrupt Mexican authorities to track them down, kill them and retrieve the encrypted phone the heros took with them on the lamb. Are you with me so far? Okay, lets put it this way. None of this is the least bit believable.

But…after a while (like all good action/adventure novels) you don’t care if it’s believable or not. The author (himself an ex-Marine and Eco-challenge racer) steeps you in such minutia about the escapees’ bodies being pushed far beyond the limits of 99.9 percent of all human beings, you just sort of go with the flow. And, (as you must in these sort of tales) he brings in one of the nastiest villains ever to drench a book’s pages with blood. And of course, there’s a mole in the CIA, or the DEA, or Homeland Security who’s helping the bad guys from the inside. But you don’t know who he is until chapter 70-something. Yes, you have to have lots and lots of chapters in an action/adventure novel so you can set up a situation, re-tell it from five different points of view, and keep the reader hanging from one chapter to the next.

The truth is, while I got a bit weary in the middle, and I got a bit seasick at the end by the seemingly unending endings, I had a good time. And isn’t that the real objective of an action/adventure novel. If it isn’t, it ought to be. The Fiction Fortune Hunter says thumbs up to Owen West’s Four Days To Veracruz. Just be careful that the thumb isn’t shot off, or lopped off, or…oh well, you get it.


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