Monday, October 4, 2010

The Network by Jason Elliott

I won The Network from GoodReads and actually I enjoyed it before I read it. The dust cover, size, and feel of this book is just perfect in your hand. That might sound silly to someone who doesn't read much, but any avid reader will know exactly what I mean.

The story begins with a hawk soaring in the sky and ends with an eagle. In the beginning, in Spring 2001, our hero, Anthony Taverner, aka Ant, has been kidnapped, then escaped and is now on the run from the bad guys. He has no idea who they are or why he has been taken, just that he's going to do everything in his power to get to safety. He is discovered and that particular mystery is solved.

Meanwhile, he has been recruited to find and destroy Stinger missiles hidden away in Afghanistan, and while there to find his best friend who is under cover with al-Qaeda and bring him back to England. He undergoes training that makes Marine Corps boot camp look like kindergarten, and then is sent to Sudan to pry information out of a woman who was married to one of Osama bin Laden's brothers. There's a good balance of rigorous training, calm planning, learning about missiles and weapons, and romance, all building to the operation in Afghanistan where it's terribly difficult to tell who the enemy is. He doesn't dare trust anyone, not even his British handlers, and yet he must trust a select few.

Elliot is a travel writer and this background certainly makes a difference as he describes the scene whether he's in England, Sudan or Afghanistan. He manages to describe the people of each country as well, although not dwelling on any particular person except for those vital to the story. As when I finished The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I feel like I know much more about the look and feel of Afghanistan, this time from the point of view of an adult who is there on a mission.

It's hard to believe this is Elliot's first novel. I have a feeling it has been knocking around in his head for years until it finally poured out in a beautifully evocative thriller that ends with a bang - literally. I do hope he'll write more novels; this one is impressive. Perhaps Ant will appear in future works. He's a hero well worth following.

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