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Sunday, 2 March 2014

The New Patrol by Andy McNab.

The New Patrol.

It was a mistake saying that I might review the sequel to Andy McNab's The New Recruit, and oh, what a mistake it was.

The New Patrol, Andy McNab's second Liam Scott 'thriller' (and I use scarequotes because I am so far from being thrilled that the light from thrill will not reach me for several million years) begins with no less than four pages of glossary, plus two pages of maps, and here we come to my first major bugbear with the book: If you require one page of a glossary, let alone four, then you need to re-examine your writing. Even when dealing with specialised subject matter, you should be able to contextualise and exposit such that an audience can pick up or infer the meanings of the words, or in this case acronyms, in question. To not be able to do so, to the point that you require a reference sheet, is a basic failure in storytelling.

But oh, how Andy McNab loves his acronyms. How he loves and cherishes them, and uses them with careless abandon to give us long spiels about guns. Observe:

The weapon's accuracy was enhanced by the fitting of the ACOG, which Liam had used a few times before heading back out to Afghanistan. That and the LDS were replacing the older SUSAT sights and were significantly more capable.”

With the first two days of RSOI done, Liam pushed on through the rest of the training. This covered dealing with IEDs, working patrol, understanding Afghan culture and vehicle drills.”

Neil's weapon was the L11543 rifle. Firing an 8.59mm round, it had improved range over its predecessor, the L96.”

He checked over the GPMG. Capable of 750 rounds a minute, and with a range of up to 1800 metres, the L7AT General-Purpose Machine Gun was the infantry workhorse.”

Are you thrilled yet? Remember, this is a thriller, it says so on the front cover and everything, and yet the dry descriptions of guns continue to leave me unthrilled (said the actress to the gun enthusiast bishop).

Beyond that, many of the problems with The New Recruit are magnified ten times over in The New Patrol. The bland characters of The New Recruit, so unmemorable that McNab manages to confuse two of them early on, are replaced by an entirely new cast of characters that are just as boring and exactly the same as the previous set, leaving me to wonder precisely why he gave himself the busywork of finding new names.

Actually, that's not entirely true. Almost all the characters in The New Patrol are dull smears of beige – three characters actually stand out as being passably interesting. They're never going to be amongst literature's greats, but they have personalities, which is frankly more than can be said for anybody else.

They are Nicky, a female medic (and people who read my review of The New Recruit will recall my distaste for the total lack of women, so the inclusion of one pleased me) who never really gets any character development but whose snarking and sarcasm was a refreshing change from the utterly boring 'dark humour' (and McNab feels the need to remind us in narration that this is dark humour whenever it turns up, which is understandable given how flat it is) utilised by most of the cast; Zaman, an affable Afghan bomb disposal expert, whose life frankly sounds far more interesting than the book we got; and the chaplain, who shows up for about two chapters and is friendly, mild-mannered, and deceptively badass, although McNab succeeds in making that weird by having one chapter end on character's singing his praises, framed as if it was some kind of cliffhanger.

Similarly, like The New Recruit, the plot never really gets going, and any time it looks like something interesting is going to happen – a mortar attack on Camp Bastion, a visit by a Cabinet politician, etc – it swiftly gets swept under the rug after McNab uses it to give a dreary three page diatribe on whatever talking point he has settled on for that chapter. There are a lot of talking points: The worth of the Territorial Army, the worth of chaplains, whether a civilian government should give orders to a military, and they are jammed into the text with all the grace and subtlety of a bull in a china shop, if the bull was on fire and screaming the contents of an Ayn Rand book.

By the time the plot – a slightly contrived story about a mole – materialised four fifths into the book, I was fairly sure I had spent more time hearing about McNab's views on practically everything than I had actually reading a story. The plot, when it finally appears, has potential, but it comes to a resounding stop as soon as it starts, with all of the suspects being cleared and the mole having been revealed to be some guy we had never met nor even heard of until now. We never get his name. We never see him. The revelation of his treachery is delivered in a two paragraph section of dialogue by Zaman almost at the very end.

The New Recruit was disappointing, but I could see how if you had a burning interest in the genre you might read it for a few hours on the train and not feel like you've wasted time you could have spent elsewhere. The New Patrol meanwhile, is a bad novel. It is not good. It is not a thriller. It is not even a story, it's just a setting, some characters, and Andy McNab's endless, tedious diatribes. The worst thing is there's more to come – we can expect to see the third Liam Scott thriller sometime soon, which I assume will mostly involve the characters stroking their rifles and reciting Daily Telegraph articles. 

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