First, I think that I should tell you why you might 𝙣o𝙩 want to purchase "The Skorpion Directive," as this novel will not suit everyone. Don't buy this audiobook if you have not yet listened its Micah Dalton series predecessors -- starting with "The Echelon Vendetta" (2007) -- because you will miss out on the continuity and some of the allusions. Secondly, don't buy this audiobook if you object to right-wing proselytizing. Yes, David Stone has a right-of-center political stance ... but, then, so do Tom Clancy, Patrick Robinson, Stephen Hunter, and most of the other Military Thriller writers. I consider myself to have pretty liberal sensibilities -- and I am sticking to them! -- but I would regret missing out on these writers who, despite their right-wing stances, offer us some pretty exciting stories. Stone, in particular, is not only a good story-teller, but also a surprisingly good writer. Some of his descriptions qualify as poetry ... but he does proselytize:
"Here, at the end of my life, I've come to realize that the only reliable law is the law of unintended consequences. This new administration [referring to the Obama administration], for the most part, is neither stupid nor blindly partisan ... although some of the younger staffers at the White House seem to think it clever to act like junkyard dogs, as if political combat were the same as actual combat. But, then, when the young Turks in any new government aren't prating to their elders, they're preening in their shaving mirrors. They all share the same delusions of adequacy. The previous administration persuaded itself that it had the power to impose a kind of Junior-League Republicanism on murderous tribal theocracies. The new one imagines that it can impose the asinine Marcusian sophistries of Norm Chompsky and the Harvard faculty of humanities on the people of America; as if Socialism had not already been tried many times before, only to collapse in ruins -- frequently very bloody ruins. And God only knows what sort of grotesque ideological calliope the next army of enthusiasts will ride in on, horns blatting and banners ablaze. My consolation is that I'll probably not be around when the wheels fall off again."
In his Micah Dalton series, Stone consistently pursues an agenda: The C.I.A. should be allowed to do its job, unencumbered with liberal fetters. He makes a pretty good case for this agenda, showing through Micah Dalton's tribulations how the C.I.A. agents are hampered by government restrictions. In his Micah Dalton series, Stone has Dalton endure some hair-raising, terrifyingly realistic adventures. Don't buy 𝙖𝙣𝙮 of Stone's Micah Dalton audiobooks if graphic descriptions of violence make you queazy.
The narrator of "The Skorpion Directive," Jason Culp, has a slightly odd voice, but very good acting skills. He has many voices and accents at his command to distinguish all the characters from one another. I would recommend "The Skorpion Directive" to anyone who enjoys the Military Thriller genre, with the above-mentioned caveats.
I love it when an author can present a far-fetched story that provides such entertainment that we willingly suspend disbelief for the fun of the ride. Although Baldacci may have fetched afar for this plot, he keeps us gladly reading. I think he must have a knack, because normally when unskilled authors try that trick, I go, "Oh, please!" But, in this case, when presented with the prospect of a former C.I.A. assassin reduced to willing poverty and anonymous, underground activism, I go, "Yeah? Tell me more!" We keep rooting for this rag-tag band of aging misfits -- the eponymous Camel Club -- all the way through the book, as they uncover the truth. Plus, this story provides us some scary insights into how our government (probably any government) works, and how decisions are made behind the scenes. By the time we see the news in the media, we can forget about any grain of truth concealed therein.
In case you have not yet familiarized yourself with Daniel Silva's amazing oeuvre, you should know this going in: Silva is an author with a mission and a message. In "The English Assassin," he explores the appalling -- and little-known -- role that supposedly-neutral Switzerland played during WWII, aiding and abetting Nazi Germany. Our hero, Gabriel Allon, moves with mastery in both the art world -- as a world-renowned restorer of Old Masters -- and in the espionage world -- as a master assassin. Sound kind of unlikely? Well, yes; but Daniel Silva writes so well that he makes it work: We can suspend disbelief, because we are enjoying the story so much. Most of the episodes in Silva's Gabriel Allon series utilize both of Allon's skills to mutual advantage. In "The English Assassin," Allon uncovers a dirty little secret that "the Swiss financial oligarchy" tries to keep under wraps: the extent to which Switzerland helped Nazi Germany steal and sequester art works from their Jewish owners. (Probably, Swiss listeners should bypass this audiobook.) The general tone and message of "The English Assassin" is well summarized in the following quote from a character known as "The guilty conscience of Switzerland:"
"When you're dealing with Switzerland, Mr. Allon, it's best to keep one thing in mind: Switzerland is not a real country -- it's a business, and it is run like a business. It is a business that is constantly in a defensive posture. It has been that way for 700 years. ... There are people in Switzerland who stand to lose a great deal if the sins of the past are exposed, and the sewers of the Bahnhofstrasse are given the thorough flushing they so desperately need. These people are an invisible government, and are not to be taken lightly. ... If you choose to pursue this matter, I suggest you watch your back: Beware the gnomes of Zurich."
In "The English Assassin," the invisible government referred to in the above quote calls itself The Council of Rütli, and dedicates itself to guarding the illicitly-garnered treasures stolen from doomed Jews during WWII, and hidden in Swiss banks ever since. Gabriel Allon -- Israeli-born son of Holocaust survivors, master art-restorer, and Mossad assassin -- reluctantly gets himself involved in this nest of vipers, nearly to his own demise. One of the previous reviewers understandably wondered about the title of this audiobook -- "The English Assassin" -- since our hero is Israeli, not English, and the eponymous English assassin, Christopher Keller, appears only intermittently as a secondary character in the book. The answer comes eleven years later, in Gabriel Allon's 13th adventure, "The English Girl," where Keller shows up again, this time teaming up with Allon, rather than opposing him. Apparently, Sliva liked the Keller character enough to dust him off for another outing!
I reluctantly docked a star from my rating of narrator John Lee. While he undeniably has one of the most gorgeous voices in all of audiobookdom, and he enunciates beautifully, he doesn't distinguish the characters from one another very well. To me, the ability to individualize the characters with different voices matters a lot in an audiobook, and signifies a good actor, even if that actor doesn't have such a beautiful voice as John Lee's. However, "The English Assassin" otherwise works well as an audiobook thriller, with an albeit dark, serious agenda. I wouldn't recommend to to anybody searching for light listening, nor to Swiss nationals!