Provincial Eye
Keith Spratley
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Provincial Eye

Keith Spratley
292 pages
July 2001

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There are a few good possible high-concept pitches one might come up with for Keith Spratley's Provincial Eye. James Bond meets "Magnum P.I." Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan meets The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (minus the rampant absurdity and philosophizing). "The Avengers" meet "Hart to Hart." "Die Hard" with a little more class and a lot more teamwork. A righteously motivated, more reasonably muscled Arnold Schwarzenegger (minus the Austrian accent).

None of those may truly hit the mark of Provincial Eye, although collectively they hint at its flavor. It's a sort of Double-Oh-Seven romp with all the gadgets but far less of the flamboyance -- while protagonist Michael Logan is a man's man, one who tough guys are honored to serve, one who knows his guns and cars and, most importantly, knows how to handle them, he's also a woman's man -- attentive and tender, loyal and loving, a sensitive aw-shucks hunk with a painful past. An ex-British special forces (SAS) officer, Logan's equilibrium has been devastated by the Grim Reaper's handiwork time and time again. He lost his parents and younger sister years ago to a car accident, his beloved brother and wife and daughter to two separate terrorist groups. But he's turned his heartache into success, building a decorated career in the military, serving honorably in the Gulf War where he lost half of one foot to a land mine.

Retired from the SAS, comfortably well-off thanks to a rich uncle's endowment, Logan's settling into his new career as a private investigator in the small English town of Bridgwater when several unexpected events turn his comfortable if lonely life upside down. First, a beautiful Indian woman he befriended during his college years reenters his life, challenging him to learn to love again. Second, a mysterious attack on a local munitions plant leads Logan to the discovery of a convoluted plot of revenge by the rich American descendant of a 17th-century contender for the British throne. Together with his ex-Regimental mates and the current Windsor royals, Logan sets in motion a desperate plan to head off a disaster of horrific proportions.

Provincial Eye has all the prerequisites of the technothriller -- an almost tragic hero (in this case, one who has managed to keep his droll British ability to take everything in stride intact); lots of weapons and vehicle specs, detailed combat scenes of all varieties, from hand-to-hand to firearms to vintage airplane dogfights; nifty military and security gadgets; a bad guy with a grandiose notion of what the world owes him. Occasional instances of heavy-handed exposition are not enough to keep Spratley's novel from being an entertaining, slightly unexpected read. Provincial Eye sets up Michael Logan as a character destined to star in sequels. And that's the real test of a thriller's mettle.

© 2002 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book

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