- Pro Review
- Discovery Awards
By Kip Cassino
Kip Cassino’s OLDOGS has all the classic hallmarks of a supremely good military spy thriller. The comfortable yet rugged form and seasoned plot are reminiscent of Ken Follett’s early 1980s espionage novels. After a succinct prologue in which we meet Isacc, who has a fairly singular role later in the book, we then switch between the inception of the OLDOGS taskforce and their training at a discreet CIA camp to the journey of the two nuclear initiators. The passage of the nukes as they traverse Russia, Cyprus and Colombia on route to Mexico is the stronger narrative, providing dependably fertile ground for the genre. The story is pacey, entertaining and comprehensively detailed without becoming confusing. Although the plot of the protagonists is ambitious, Cassino keeps the story relatively uncomplicated but anticipatory nonetheless.
Where the prose really excels is in the characterization. We meet a connected cast of international, criminal figures and fixers imbued with varying levels of shadiness and immorality. Cassino is adept at writing precise one- or two-line physical descriptions of each, including a small eccentricity that brings them quickly and sharply into focus neatly complementing the fast pace. Their accompanying dialogue is authentic with occasional comedic touches which consolidates these convincing portrayals. An element that also gives the bad guys extra dimension and elevates them above pantomimic villains is their vulnerability. All of them have it to a greater or lesser extent; either in their backstory or present during their immediate actions. Cassino is both adroit and efficient in developing these characters, even if their appearance in the novel is fairly brief. Semih, the Kurd, and Oliver Murrow, the pilot, are prime examples.
The parallel narrative setting up the OLDOGS taskforce is a little staid and prosaic by comparison, although there are some interesting personalities here too. At the beginning, the structure is a touch chaotic before we move forward with Jo and Barney in Team Two. There are some definite continuity issues with timing; the pace is slower and slightly off-kilter to the parallel journey of the initiators. Barney and Jo are likeable, credible characters with flashes of world-weary humor but when the relationship between them moves up a level, it runs counter to the action and slightly undermines it. It would have been a refreshing twist to have kept their connection professional. However, the concept of the older generation still having relevance and usefulness in a high-pressurized, technologically advanced environment, though not original, forms the nucleus of the book and is dealt with in a sincere, non-patronizing manner.
OLDOGS is a thoroughly enjoyable and capable thriller written in a reassuringly traditional style with some nicely realized characters and competent plotting.
~Rose Auburn for IndieReader