Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is the fourth outing for Captain Shane Schofield, after Ice Station, Area 7, and Scarecrow (it’s the fifth if you count the novella Hell Island which was given away for free as a part of the Books Alive campaign in Australia – that’s the one where the ‘apes went apeshit!’).
This story concerns a villainous cadre of soldiers known as the Army of Thieves who take control of an old Soviet scientific installation known as Dragon Island. As well as being a research facility, Dragon Island was also a super weapon, designed to set fire to the atmosphere and destroy most of the earth (obviously it was a last strike weapon – in the event of, and after losing a nuclear war).
The Army of Thieves start pumping out a flammable gas into the atmosphere from Dragon Island and the countdown to doomsday begins. An Army Unit goes in to stop the Thieves, but they are cut down in a hail of machine gun and rocket fire. With time running out, the only team close enough, are a small research team in the Arctic, headed by Shane Schofield. He is sent in with three other Marine, two civilians, and a robot, to do what an Army unit couldn’t do – save the world!
Of course, from the outset it is one wild and woolly set piece after another, with Schofield and his team being chased, shot at, bombed, and every other possible thing – as they try to beat the deadline, and stop the earth’s atmosphere being incinerated (For another airport fiction take on the atmosphere being set alight, check out Bill Napier’s Revelation).
While I enjoyed Army of Thieves, I thought it was not up to the standard of the Jack West adventures that Reilly has written most recently (Seven Ancient Wonders, Six Sacred Stones, Five Greatest Warriors). In some areas, some prudent editing would have improved the flow of the story too. But ultimately, picking on a Reilly novel is like kicking a dog. It is just mean spirited. Reilly writes fast paced thrill fests designed to entertain – and Army of Thieves certainly does that, as long as you are prepared to suspend disbelief.
The key to Army of Thieves (and most of Reilly’s novels, for that matter) is the ‘how are they going to get out of that’ factor – and how close to death the main characters can come – and still manage to survive. Or not! In fact, and this may constitute a minor spoiler, but not really for anyone who has read a Reilly novel – the story really is about how many times the characters can be killed and come back to life. Scarecrow dies once, his loyal second-in-command Gena ‘Mother’ Newman dies twice, and a new character known as Baba dies three times (and the robot twice).
If you’re a Reilly fan, and fast paced thrills are your thing, then Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves will fit the bill nicely. If you want a little bit more meat on the bones of your action adventure stories, you may have to seek out James Rollins, or revisit some vintage Cussler.