Monday, June 05, 2006

Gentleman's Game - Greg Rucka

Title:A Gentleman's Game
Author: Greg Rucka

On the morning of the 7th of August London is brought to a halt, three terrorists in a coordinated attack bring the underground to a halt. Using fire rather than bombs the death toll is in the hundreds. The British government want reprisals, but they have to identify a target first. The SIS are put on standby, the branch of the British intelligence that deal with foreign operations - each country has a station and station agents, but on top of that there are three minders, those that will carry out any specific action.

Tara Chase is Minder One. A recent promotion in an organisation that has had a high turn over in the last 18 months, and in a job where departure is usually marked by death that makes things particularly hard. Coupled with the stressful operating life of a Minder, Tara has started smoking again, she relaxes by drinking and regular one night stands. When it is decided that a prominent imam associated with the terrorist group that struck London should be assassinated in retaliation then Tara will be the one who pulls the trigger. However there window is slight, he rarely leaves Saudi Arabia - so when he makes a trip to Yemen she has to get in there quick, and hopefully back out again.

A Gentleman's Game is the first Queen & Country novel by Greg Rucka. A departure from his previous novels, which were a series revolving around Atticus Kodiak bodyguard/investigator. As far as I am aware neither A Gentleman's Game or the second novel Private War, which has just been published, are available in the UK - I picked up this hard backed copy as an import. Regardless of availability, or this being the first Q&C novel Tara is a character I am quite familiar with - Queen & Country being Rucka's successful and ongoing series of comics from publisher Oni Press.

Over the last few years Rucka has written 28 issues, which translates into 7 collected volumes, 7 individual missions for Tara and the SIS. Starting her off as Minder 3 and working up to her present rank. At issue 28 he took a break from the series to write the two novels. While A Gentleman's Game is a stand alone novel that can be read by itself, for those familiar with the series it is dense with references to what has gone before - relationships, successes and mistakes.

A Gentleman's Game could easily pick up straight from the last issue of the series. But there is a change of medium, which is a curious thing - the transformation from reading pictures for nuances, to having it all laid out in the text. We are much more aware of the tensions and politics of the SIS here, though there is much of the first half of the novel is dedicated to waiting around, to arguing over what is appropriate. Funnily that makes the first half of the novel slow at times - despite being an espionage/political thriller. A Gentleman's Game doesn't really kick off till the second half. Tara has gone to Yemen, she has made her move, and the aftermath kicks in - the excess of success, the failure, the betrayal, all leaving Tara more desperate and in trouble than she has ever been before. From that point on A Gentleman's Game becomes a sudden page turner.

One thing worth noting, this novel was published in 2004, and starts with an attack on the London underground on the 7th of August. Coincidentally there was a pretty similar attack on the London Underground on the 7th of July 2005, a year minus a month later than the book's plot. This makes that first few chapters something of a stranger read now in June 2006 than they would have been prior to July 2005.

Shortly after picking up this novel, and apparently the fresh publication of it's follow up Private Wars in the US, the first new issue of Queen & Country appeared. Knowing that Queen & Country #29 takes place between the two novels I made sure I held it back until I had finished reading this novel. Having gotten used to reading one media it was again weird to go back to the original, especially as each volume of Queen & Country has a different artist, so that all the characters look that little bit different every time. Reading Queen & Country #29 straight after A Gentleman's Game is particularly interesting - working as much as an epilogue as the first part of something else, after all the fall out has to be dealt with first.

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