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review 2018-05-31 22:26
Recommended to fans of action and spy thrillers looking for a fun read.
The Beauty of Bucharest (A Clean Up Crew Thriller Book 1) - S. J. Varego

Thanks to the publisher for offering me a free copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

It is quite difficult to review this novel without revealing any spoilers, and the description does not help much (it is gripping although extremely discreet) but considering the genre, this is pretty understandable, and I’ll try my hardest not to spoil the fun.

I am not a big reader of spy novels but have watched a fair amount of spy movies,and although this is not a spy novel per se, it shares with them many of its characteristics. We have professionals working in an international team, taking up false identities, travelling all over the world to undertake dangerous missions, using weaponry and skills beyond those of most normal individuals. We have the goodies and the baddies (and they are very bad indeed, no question about it), we have secrets, risky situations, and a fair amount of violence. The novel also requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief but not more than is usual in the genre.

The story, as suggested by the title, takes place, in its majority, in Bucharest, and it involves a beautiful model, but also many other women who are at risk. The background of the operation and the individuals the two protagonists —Dan and Nicole, a married couple— are trying to get rid of are bad beyond discussion. We are not dealing with white-collar crimes or morally ambiguous matters. I don’t think any readers will find it difficult to root for the protagonists, who are also likeable and have an endearing, if somewhat idealised, relationship.

The novel manages to combine what might be some women’s fantasies (having plenty of power, running an international company that deals with and avenges those who do evil, helping make the world a better place, knowing how to use powerful weapons and possessing fighting skills, whilst at the same time having the perfect husband and children), with some men’s fantasies (having a gorgeous and younger wife, the perfect family life, retiring after having dedicated one’s life to creating a company that is fun to run [a company that designs computer games], becoming involved in fascinating adventures, and then being able to use his geek skills to save his kick-ass wife). It is a fast-paced adventure, exciting, and there’s not a moment’s boredom. Although we get a sense of what Bucharest is like, there are no lengthy descriptions to slow down the action, and we do not get lost in psychological studies of the characters either.

This is, first and foremost, a plot-driven book, and we do not get to know much about the characters or their motivations, although this is book one in the series and there are hints that we will get to discover some important secrets in future novels. The story is told in the third person but from the points of views of both of the main characters (and sometimes briefly from some of other characters, including one of the baddies), and, although as I said there is no deep analysis of the individuals, having access to their thoughts makes it easy to empathise with them. There is a degree of head-hopping (sometimes the narration quickly moves from the point of view of one of the characters to the other), but I did not find it confusing as it is quite evident who is thinking what. I am not sure the characters are always fully consistent, but they are confronting pretty challenging circumstances and that is not what the book is focused on. (I must confess to feeling quite intrigued by one of the bad characters, the female bodyguard. Not likeable but…) The writing is dynamic and fluid, and although there are some USA-based cultural references, they do not detract from the understanding of the story.

There is violence, some fairly explicit (although not extreme), and there is a scene that although very bloody, will be satisfying to most readers (just deserts come to mind, and I was close to cheering at that point) but the book is not a heavy read. Although it deals with serious matters, these are not the subject of far-reaching analysis but rather an evil that has to be fought.

In summary, this is a fun and quick read, full of action, with a degree of role reversal (strong and powerful females, and males who are side-kicks at best and distractions at worst, although they end up coming quite handy), in an interesting setting, with a very satisfying ending and a promise of more secrets to be revealed in future instalments. I could not help but think of many of the spy movies I’ve watched, and with the right cast, it could turn into a blockbuster. Recommended to lovers of action and spy thrillers looking for a fun, non-taxing read.

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