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Nick Stone lives in an old dump of a house with a hole in the roof. He eats junk food and sleeps in seedy hotels and drives around in an old wreck of a car. He acts subservient to idiots and endures his boss who puts him on ice and insults him. He gets involved in one "mission impossible" after another, all of which end in fiasco. He gets beaten up repeatedly and eats aspirin like candy to keep the pain down. He trudges for hours through snowstorms and freezing weather and almost dies of exposure.
In other words, Nick Stone isn't just an anti-hero; he comes across as a total loser. And whenever he's given the choice he always chooses to do things the hardest way possible and suffer the consequences.
So why read a book starring Nick Stone? Because Nick Stone, despite everything I've just said about him, is the ultimate survivor. When the going gets tough (and this happens regularly) Nick Stone comes out of the confrontation alive and the bad guys are either dead or incapacitated.
Furthermore, you have the feeling that it's all real. Andy McNab was in the British SAS, and when he writes about Nick Stone you feel that everything is completely authentic. Everything that happens is described in detail and with a down-to-earth grittiness. The weapons and the explosives and the fights and the agent tradecraft are being written about by a man who really has the experience necessary to write about these things with authority.
Another plus factor is that Nick Stone, who tells the story in the first person, is not just taciturn, stoic and self-effacing; he's also sarcastic and good at poking fun at the world around him. It's a kind of black humor, but it suits the tone of the story and makes the book more enjoyable.
For non-British readers I feel the need to point out that this book is written in British English with a lot of British slang. This is something that I find appealing but that can result in difficulties occasionally. For example, "Winning the fight isn't important, it's having the bottle to get stuck in that is." (page 281) I had to query a message board frequented by British people to get a translation to ordinary English, which is roughly, "It's more important to have the right attitude, the toughness, when going into a fight than whether or not you win the fight."
This is the first Andy McNab novel that I've read, and I'll conclude this review by admitting that I have ambivalent feelings about the book. I love the authenticity of the story telling and the belief in himself that Nick Stone shows no matter what happens. But why the heck does a man with his abilities and talents always have to choose to do things the hard way and end up living like a bum and getting involved in jobs that always go terribly wrong?
No matter how much chill factor Alistair Maclean could write into Ice Station Zebra, there was no way he could ever match Andy McNab's descriptions of one night in the sub-zero temperatures of Estonia. Why? Because McNab has clearly been there - done that -got the T shirt! You just KNOW from his descriptions that he's describing the depravation and emotions that he, himself, has suffered during his years in Britain's SAS.
Following Andy McNab's hugely successful `Crisis Four', Nick Stone, now a `K' working for British Intelligence on deniable operations is desperately in need of cash. Offered the lucrative freelance job of kidnapping a mafia warlord and delivering him to St. Petersburgh, it seems to Stone that his problems are over. In fact, they are only just beginning.
Stone enters the bleak and brutal underworld of the former Soviet republic of Estonia, where unknown aggressors stalk the bitter landscape, and he soon finds himself caught between implacable enemies. And who is the secretive Liv?
Another runaway McNab success. Wake up Hollywood !
I became a fan after reading Bravo Two Zero and Immediate Action. I greatly anticipated his foray into the fictional world, and have not been disappointed. I find myself wishing he would hurry up with the next installment! I want to find out how Kelly is doing, and if Nick becomes Permanent Cadre, and, well, you get the idea.
The realism of McNab's writing is what sets it apart. No gadgets, no satellites, no giant technological leaps. His characters are believable, they do believable things, and they use common tools. His Leatherman is his best friend.
If you've never read McNab, then I highly recommend him to you. Do yourself a favor and read his books in order. You'll realize just how far short the rest of the pack has fallen.