Jul 5, 2012

Review: The Last Refuge by Ben Coes


The Last Refuge by Ben Coes
Published: July 3rd 2012 by St. Martin's Press
Source: ARC from the publisher

Goodreads SummaryWith time running out to stop the nuclear destruction of Tel Aviv, Dewey Andreas must defeat his most fearsome opponent yet.

Off a quiet street in Brooklyn, New York, Israeli Special Forces commander Kohl Meir is captured by operatives of the Iranian secret service, who smuggle Meir back to Iran, where he is imprisoned, tortured, and prepared for a show trial.  

What they don’t know is that Meir was in New York to recruit Dewey Andreas for a secret operation. Meir had been tipped off that Iran had finally succeeded in building their first nuclear weapon, one they were planning to use to attack Israel. His source was a high-level Iranian government official and his proof was a photo of the bomb itself.  

Dewey Andreas, a former Army Ranger and Delta, owes his life to Meir and his team of Israeli commandos. Now, to repay his debt, Dewey has to attempt the impossible ---to both rescue Meir from one of the world’s most secure prisons and to find and eliminate Iran’s nuclear bomb before it’s deployed---all without the help or sanction of Israel or America (at the near certain risk of detection by Iran). 

Unfortunately, Dewey’s first moves have caught the attention of Abu Paria, the brutal and brilliant head of VEVAK, the Iranian secret service. Now Dewey has to face off against, outwit, and outfight an opponent with equal cunning, skill, and determination, with the fate of millions hanging in the balance.

Review by: Vjeko

“The Last Refuge” is Ben Coes’ third novel starring the character Dewey Andreas, after "Coup D’ Etat", and “Power Down.” It belongs to one of my favorite genres, the political “real world” thriller. I get a real kick out of reading intelligent people sitting at a table, having an intelligent conversation about some urgent “we need to act now” situation. People like Tom Clancy, John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum are masters of this style of writing and have been copied many times.

I had two basic problems with “The Last Refuge”, one on a personal level and one on a visceral level. As I’ve already mentioned, the formula for this genre has become somewhat clichéd and thus it is impossible to read this book without automatically comparing to Ludlum’s and Clancy’s work. I tried really hard, but the similarities are just too striking: an international crisis, various groups of men in suits playing Greek choir and sitting at a table comment and giving exposition, and most importantly, the hero with special skills who just wants to be left in peace but is dragged into a situation. And this is probably my biggest problem with this novel. Dewey Andreas is just not that interesting of a hero. He simply goes through the motions of a million other protagonists in this genre: wants to live a peaceful life, isn’t allowed to, has to rescue and /or avenge someone. He doesn’t have the intelligence and wit of Jack Ryan and he doesn’t have the physicality of Jason Bourne. Now, it may not be fair to make these comparisons, but I really feel that that was what Coes was going for and simply doesn’t distinguish himself enough.

My second problem is that Coes wears his politics on his sleeve a bit too much. And while I don’t begrudge him for his viewpoints, for which he is perfectly entitled to as much as Grisham is entitled to liberalism, Coes’ characters suffer. Americans come across as militant righteous jerks, and Iranians as stereotypical “possible” bad guys who shouldn’t get a single benefit of a doubt. All of this is very clearly stated in the novel. Does all this take away from Coes’ capabilities as a writer? Not at all and I’m sure a lot of people won’t be bothered by any of this, I guess it’s just a case of personal preference.

It wouldn’t be fair to deny that this novel has some things going for it. Coes has a very good sense of pacing and individual situations are tense and exciting. It is a consistently readable novel, at times very much so. And as much as I disliked Andreas, some of the supporting players, representatives of agencies are very sharp and have good dialogue.

“The Last Refuge” will work best for newbies in this genre. It is a serviceable introduction to this kind of writing but more experienced fans will have a problem not comparing with what came before.  Coes is a promising talent, he just needs to work on giving us more of his own unique voice and toning down on his politics affecting his characters.

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