The Cleansweep Counterstrike by Chuck Waldron: An entertaining thriller follow-up that almost lives up to its predecessor.

The Cleansweep CounterstrikeThe Cleansweep Counterstrike

by Chuck Waldron
Series: Matt Tremain Technothriller, #2

eARC, 312 pg.
Bublish, 2018

Read: August 7, 2018


Let me preface all this by saying that I enjoyed The Cleansweep Counterstrike, I thought it was a fun return to the characters of the first book. I had some problems with it — that weren’t so bad that they kept me from enjoying this book, but they diminished my appreciation. I do talk about them below, and to adequately express them takes some space — so much so that it dominates my post. This isn’t because I didn’t like the book — it’s just that I wanted to be sure I explained my thinking. So I’m stressing at the outset — I recommend this book, I liked it and I think that other readers will, too.

Ahab had his whale, Coyote has his Road Runner and Charles Claussen has Matt Tremain (and the others that helped him out in The Cleansweep Conspiracy). Claussen lost a lot — not just in terms of influence of money, either — when Tremain’s investigations helped bring his Cleansweep project down. Now on the run from his former bank-rollers and trying to keep under the radar of law enforcement, Claussen risks everything to get his revenge.

Tremain and his friends have moved on in their lives and careers — but you get the impression that they haven’t stopped looking over their shoulder for something to come at them for their role in Cleansweeps failure — not just Claussen, either. He may have been the front man, but no one thinks that he’s the only one that might bear a grudge.

After he gets his revenge, Claussen does plan on trying to get some mercy from his benefactors — and maybe see if he can demonstrate that Cleansweep can work in another country. But first things first.

I am so glad that Waldron took this approach to things — I went in apprehensive that this would be Conspiracy Redux — somehow the people behind Claussen were trying it in a new city/country (or worse, they were trying again in Toronoto under a different name) and that Tremain and company had taken it upon themselves to head off to the new location to do the same thing they’d done at home. I just wasn’t ready for the tortured logic that would make it possible. Instead, it’s all about the fallout from Conspiracy — good and bad for all involved, and all parties trying to go on with their lives, obsessions, and whatnot. Everyone except Claussen, that is. He’s still stuck in the moment, making him the proverbial fly in the ointment for everyone.

Like in Conspiracy, there’s some issues with time — how much time went by before Claussen starts his efforts at revenge, how long before Tremain and Carling go hunting for Claussen, for example — there’s a couple other spoiler-y items that I’m confused on the timing about, too. Yes, Waldron gives plenty of clues about the time, but some of them are pretty vague and some of them come so late into the game that by the time he says anything about it, it’s too late and the reader is already a bit muddled on details. That could just be me, but I don’t think so. On the flip side, there’s some things in Tremain’s personal life that move so quickly (I think) that they’re hard to believe. The key there is to not fight it, not insist that everything’s crystal clear — and the book will sweep you up in the hunt and you’ll stop caring. And, when it comes to the things that are important — he doesn’t miss a step. It’s only in the setup, the subplots, the background, etc. that things get muddled.

Once Claussen starts to move in and really gets the four worried about what he’s up to and what might happen to them, the book comes together and all the little quibbles vanish. There’s danger afoot, hazards everywhere and they all will have to be ready to adapt to any strange circumstance if they’re going to get out of this alive and intact.

We spent plenty of time with Claussen in Conspiracy — and we get even more here. Early on, almost every line of dialogue, every thought of his that’s recorded is as diabolically evil as it could be — which made it so hard to swallow. But after a while, that goes away. And you can almost reach the point where you want to see Claussen escape a little longer so that when he does come for Tremain, the whole thing will be a tinge more exciting.

My main problem with this novel is that we don’t get nearly enough time with Tremain and his allies — so much of that part of the story feels rushed and under-cooked. I’d like more time with Carling, Remy and Susan. Yes, Tremain is the focus — and should be — but we get almost nothing about the other three when they’re not playing backup to Tremain. Carling is the most neglected (which I don’t think will be a problem in the next book), keeping him the one I want to learn most about — Tremain’s Russian hacker benefactor would be a close second.

Angela Vaughn, Claussen’s former security chief, was one of the highlights of Conspiracy for me — and she has a great moment or two here. But sadly, just a moment or two. I’m glad that Waldron brought her back for this book, I just wish he’d done more with her.

The criminals and mercenaries that Claussen surrounds himself with and/or is surrounded with (it’s a fine, but important, distinction you can learn about yourself) aren’t as compelling. Those that are competent vacillate between almost too capable to believe and have they ever done anything more complicated than hold up a liquor store?

Conspiracy felt plausible, maybe some of it was a stretch, but it still struck me as something not too far-fetched, and the stakes felt real. On the whole, Counterstrike is probably closer to plausible, but the stakes didn’t — maybe because it felt so unlikely that someone like Claussen could be so focused on his revenge — so short-sighted about the dangers inherent in pursuing it (from the government, his backers, other enemies he’s made). But it’s that Ahab-like focus that drives the novel, so you have to accept it. Once you do — the rest is easy to buy into.

Once again, this novel is close to be a great thriller, but it misses by an inch or two on many fronts — some are minor quibbles, some are more than that — but you get enough of those and it’s hard to be enthusiastic about the book as you could’ve been. Maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like this is a draft or two away from being at that point (would a Toronto police detective call the FBI “the Feds”?). For every thing that I grumbled about above (or put in my notes and didn’t bring up because I was starting to feel like I was being negative), Waldron nails 3-4 other things. The story is there, I simply don’t think that Waldron told it as effectively as he could’ve.

I don’t want this post to come across as negative, I’m just underwhelmed. I enjoyed it — I don’t think it’s as good as Conspiracy, but it’s a worthwhile continuation, and should make the reader keen to get their hands on Book 3. Given where Waldron leaves things, it has the makings of a pretty strong installment.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest thoughts.

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3 Stars

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A Few More Quick Questions With…Chuck Waldron

Here’s Part 2 of the Book Tour stop for The Cleansweep Counterstrike — a follow-up to the Q & A from last time.

Could you tell us a little about your “path to publication”? What got you into writing and what did you do to take it from an aspiration to a reality?
It started innocently enough when I joined a class on writing short stories. Years of professional writing was transformed into story-telling. Fifty-five short stories later I went back to my first short story, wondering if I could turn it into a novel. Now, working on novel number six, the journey continues. I’m a proud indie author and haven’t looked back.
Back when we talked about The CleanSweep Conspiracy, you said, “I like Matt Tremain, the protagonist in The CleanSweep Conspiracy. He just might hang around for another story.” Of all the various things you could’ve done with Matt — what was it about the premise for Counterstrike that made you say, “That’s the one”?
Matt’s story wasn’t finished. He still had his evil nemesis lurking, waiting to do Matt harm. I decided to follow Charles Claussen after his escape and weave his story of revenge with Matt’s desire to be left in peace. Matt, realizing that “peace” wasn’t going to happen as long as Claussen was in the picture, had to act. That’s when I knew, “that’s the one.”
thing they did in the prior book, or conversely, something they said in a “throwaway line” in the first b
For me, it was trying to walk a tightrope. How could I create a stand-alone book in the sequel and yet have it be part of a continuing story? I already knew my main characters and how they acted, but how to keep their voices fresh. Stieg Larsson did it brilliantly in his series, setting a high standard.
We seemed to spend plenty of time with Charles Claussen in this volume (not that we didn’t in the preceding one), seeing things from his point of view — what’s the hardest part of writing him?
For me, creating villains has always meant digging into some dark corners of my imagination. In just about every way Claussen represents my polar opposite. I chose to create a composite of evil people I know. The hardest part writing him was to give his character something likable.
I’ve often heard that writers (or artists in general) will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
I wrote a quirky fantasy Remington and the Mysterious Fedora. From all the words, a reader chose a paragraph that had some mild sexual context. She said, “I can’t believe this book. It’s not about a hat or a typewriter. It’s about sex.” It’s my only one-star review. I don’t see that as a demand bid to change my writing.
Is there a book 3 in the works, or is this the end of the road (at least for those that survive)?
This hint is the sample chapter of book three at the end of The Cleansweep Counterstrike. There’s still enough conspiracy theories to go around.
Thanks for your time, and I hope The Cleansweep Counterstrike is met with plenty of success!
Thanks for having me, and your good wishes.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Cleansweep Counterstrike by Chuck Waldron

One of the first Book Tours I ever participated in was for The Cleansweep Conspiracy by Chuck Waldron. Today I’m glad to welcome the Book Tour for the follow-up, The Cleansweep Counterstrike. Along with this spotlight post, I have a Q&A with the author (in which he uncovers the fact that I never read advertisements in books) and then I’ll wrap things up today by giving my take on the novel.

Book Details:

Book Title: The Cleansweep Counterstrike by Chuck Waldron
Series: A Matt Tremain Technothriller Book 2
Category: Adult Fiction, 312 pages
Genre: Thriller / dystopian
Publisher: Bublish Inc.
Release date: April 21, 2018
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (Adult language)

Book Description:

In this sequel, Matt Tremain is back, facing an even deadlier threat. Deceit and intrigue lie hidden behind the collapse of Operation CleanSweep. It’s time for revenge.

Instrumental in exposing the evil behind Operation CleanSweep—a diabolical “cultural cleansing” plot masterminded by Toronto billionaire Charles Claussen—investigative blogger Tremain now faces the madman’s desire for vengeance. Claussen intends to settle the score personally by luring Matt into a deadly trap.

But the clock is ticking for Claussen, too. Fraternité des Aigles, The Brotherhood of Eagles—a shadowy group that secretly financed Claussen’s Operation CleanSweep—wants answers and their money back. Consumed with rage, Claussen risks everything to get to Matt before the Brotherhood gets to him. Tremain is once again partnering with a police detective, Carling. Knowing they are being lured into a possible trap, they decide to face their nemesis, Charles Claussen.

Across four continents, Claussen sets traps, pursues Tremain, and continues to execute his signature brand of global chaos. When his fiancé’s life is on the line, can Tremain stop Claussen’s madness and still avoid getting killed?

To read reviews, please visit Chuck Waldron’s page on iRead Book Tours.

 

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Meet the Author:

Chuck Waldron

Chuck Waldron is the author of four riveting mystery, thriller and suspense novels and more than fifty short stories. Inspired by his grandfather’s tales of the Ozark Mountains and local caves rumored to be havens for notorious gangsters, Waldron was destined to write about crime and the human condition. Those childhood legends ignited his imagination and filled his head with unforgettable characters, surprising plots and a keen interest in supernatural and historical subplots.

With literary roots planted in the American Midwest and South, and enriched by many years living in the fertile cultural soil of metropolitan Ontario, Waldron now resides on Florida’s fabled Treasure Coast with his wife, Suzanne. While keeping an eye out for hurricanes, alligators, and the occasional Burmese python, visitors will find Waldron busy writing his next crime thriller.

Connect with Chuck: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook 

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Ignite by Danielle Rogland

IgniteIgnite

by Danielle Rogland

Kindle Edition, ? pg.
Inkitt, 2017

Read: March 2 – 4, 2017

Something pretty bad happened to the world (at least Europe) — we’re not really told what precisely, but it was fairly significant. From the rubble of society a man named Donovan raises and restores some order and stability — it doesn’t take long for him to become some sort of horrible despot, and becomes Emperor Donovan.

We come into New London some decades after this and meet a young pickpocket named Jacks. She’s been living on the streets for years now, after Donovan’s agents have killed her parents. She’s confident, scrappy and strong — but she knows her limits. One day, she’s trying to help some people from her neighborhood and encounters the legendary group The Flames. The Flames are known throughout New London (and further, actually) for standing against the Emperor and his agents. Where they strike, the leave burning candles behind — a symbol of hope — a literal light in the darkness.

Jacks can’t believe that she’s run into them and actually aids them. Slowly, she’s brought into their confidence and becomes one — just in time for The Flames to uncover a large new initiative about to be launched to eliminate Donovan’s enemies. The only question is: Are they too late?

In the midst of this, the Flames have to grow and evolve both as they bring Jacks into the fold, but as that results in secrets and weaknesses come to light. It’s not just Donovan’s troops that are a threat to the group, but problems from within could actually destroy The Flames. When Rogland is dealing with the relationships, the backstories and what those mean for the characters futures that she really shines.

We don’t get a clear picture just what makes Emperor Donovan worthy of being overthrown — other than bringing some sort of stability to the post-disaster world, we learn nothing about how he runs things as a whole. We do know that he’s horrible (at best) to the people that live and work in his household, and that he has his goons publicly execute dissenters. The Flames uncover an even worse solution that Donovan has for dissenters/protestors/rebels, too. But that’s all we’re given — I’m not saying that’s not horrible, but it’s not exactly a hugely oppressive general environment (that we know about).

The other thing we don’t know is how The Flames actually accomplish much — yeah, they have heart, they have a strategic whiz of a leader (I guess), and a heckuva computer guru — but beyond that, without getting into details, it’s hard to believe that the group you read about can be as effective as we are told they are. And really, we don’t know what The Flames (or any of their allies) are really for — we just know they’re anti-Donovan. But there’s nothing they’re rallying around, no principles, or guiding philosophy or anything.

Still, in the moment you don’t notice any of that much (if at all) — what you do notice is Jacks finding a place in the world — a place where she’s not alone, trying to scrape by. Rather, she has a family of sorts, people who care, people looking out for her, and who need her in return, people she can help. Moreover, she has a purpose, she’s part of something bigger than herself. I could say the same for most of the people in The Flames, actually. The flaws of the book fade into the background in the midst of the characters and their lives.

Could this book be better? Yeah — the plot, the internal logic, etc. could use some real work. But I’m not sure that Rogland could give us that while maintaining the experience of this book. Would I have preferred something more developed? Sure — but I really can’t complain about what we have here. It’s a very satisfying read, with a strong emotional hook, and that’s good enough for me. The ending begs for another volume or two, hopefully they’re forthcoming. But, unlike others of the type, it doesn’t demand a sequel, it could work as a stand-alone. I just hope it isn’t one. 

Disclaimer: I received this novel from Inkitt in exchange for this post — thanks!

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3 Stars

The FATOFF Conspiracy by Olga Werby

The FATOFF ConspiracyThe FATOFF Conspiracy

by Olga Werby

Kindle Edition, 317 pg.
2015

Read: August 29, 2016


This is a pretty creepy dystopian tale about a culture on the brink of disaster (self-caused, it should be stressed). Americans have lost the war on obesity and all but the elitist of the elite are dangerously obese (while tucking away a good portion of that fat into a pocket dimension), in pain, struggling, dying young and yet eating almost constantly.

Cindy Rella (and yeah, it took me until the 27% mark to figure out why that name rang a bell) comes up with a long-shot scheme to get herself government assistance to restore her to her formerly thin and healthy self). Cindy’s plan falls apart in a very dramatic (and embarrassing) fashion. Her life falls apart soon after — thankfully she has a couple of friends.

One of whom is involved in an underground movement to restore the place of actual food in the world and remove the whole food industry that is slowly killing the populace. Cindy starts exercising a bit, eating better — nothing extreme, just basic weight-loss stuff: eat less, move more — focusing on real food, not the SF foodstuff they’re all eating. The diet stuff was worked in pretty well — Werby doesn’t beat you up with it.

Most novels of this type would’ve spent a chapter or two explaining the Tech better, explaining how society got to where it was (who in their right mind starts this?) and is in. Werby just dives in to the problems, to the Tech breaking down and leaves the past in the past. Maybe in other books, I’d want more explanation, I’d want the background, but it works here. Honestly, I’m not sure that I want to know how society got to this point, because I’d like to eat sometime this month, and I might not be able to if she got into it.

The characters were okay. I liked Cindy and just about everybody else — there were a couple of villains who could’ve been better developed. Actually, this is one of the weaknesses of the book — everyone could’ve been a bit better developed. It’s like she took the cake out of the oven 5 minutes early (okay, not the best metaphor for the book, maybe I should’ve said she had us sit down when the bench’s new paint job was allllmost dry). Outside the basic plot and worldbuilding, everything needed just a bit more nuance, filled out a bit.

I enjoyed this book, but it could’ve been a little better. It was enjoyable and kept me interested — and a little horrified once all the pieces were revealed.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my honest — and belated thoughts. I got it in under the wire for September, but it was supposed to be in August. Ugh. Sorry!

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3 Stars

Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine

Chasing FreedomChasing Freedom

by Marina Fontaine

Kindle Edition, 222 pg.
Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016

Read: July 27 – 28, 2016


A few decades from now, the government of the United States (although I don’t think it’s directly called that, but it’s clear that’s what it is) has become the totalitarian regime so many fear, imposing a type of public “civility” on the citizenry. Public protests are closed down by the authorities, but keep springing up (and seem to be coordinated in a way that the authorities can’t pin down) — and then they evolve into organized resistance groups and information dissemination efforts (counter-propaganda efforts).

On the whole, the book focuses on the resistance groups, their allies and those they aid — with the occasional look at those in power and their operatives. The resistance groups are full of people who are looking for different things — some out of ideology, some out of concern for the safety and health of their loved ones, there are even criminals who help just to get under the heavy thumb of the government, some just want a way to express themselves and make art rather than be “contributing members of society.”

In different ways, these people (and many others) work together (and apart) to force the government to get back to its own foundational principles. There are glimpses of violence here, but mostly this takes place between the battles — in the ramping up to them, or in the aftermath. It’s violent enough to satisfy those who want that and to seem grounded in the subject, but that’s not the focus. The focus is on what the struggle means to people and what it does to them — some characters are scarred, some characters are driven to find hidden strength(s), a few characters are both.

I noted while reading this that the type of government/society depicted in a dystopian novel tells you a lot about the politics of the author — as does what the characters of behind the resistance/opposition want to replace it. Fontaine grew up in the U.S.S.R., and knows a little about real dystopia, that’s reflected in these pages, too. Her vision of the future isn’t one you typically see in fiction — and agree with her or not — it’s a breath of fresh air.

I’ve read works that were better written, more convincing — but this one hit me right. I love the vision of this book, the way that Fontaine gets her characters to work together — even when there’s little reason to. Their hopes of the good life — or at least a better one — really resonated with me. There wasn’t (much) drive for vengeance, it wasn’t one or two people against the system — it was a variety of people, doing various things that drove the action of this novel. A solid effort, an entertaining and borderline inspirational read. I hope to see more from Fontaine in the future.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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4 Stars

The CleanSweep Conspiracy by Chuck Waldron

The CleanSweep ConspiracyThe CleanSweep Conspiracy

by Chuck Waldron
Series: Matt Tremain Technothriller, #1

Kindle Edition, 304 pg.
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016

Read: May 21 – 25, 2016


Matt Tremain is a man on the run — authorities are broadcasting his picture all over, the police are hunting for him. Not a typical reaction to a tech/privacy blogger (this blogger would like that amount, not kind, of attention) — but that’s the impact that his stories about CleanSweep are possibly having. At the very least, he’s got a few very influential people paying attention, and that’s enough for the powers behind CleanSweep to want him quieted.

Thankfully, he has some allies who have his back — both in Toronto, and around the world, so he’s able to escape the initial attempts to bring him in. Unsure who to trust, he’s living as off-of-the-grid as he possibly can (while maintaining his blog as much as he can — not easy).

Still, this just emboldens him, as well as showing him that the clock is running, and he won’t be able to do anything to prevent this from becoming permanent soon. So Matt, a couple of allies in the press, one in law enforcement, and a few he hasn’t met yet, get busier at exposing what they believe to be a conspiracy devoted to stamping out undesirable elements in society. Toronto will be ground zero, but it won’t be long before this Conspiracy moves to other parts of the world, destroying privacy, civil liberties and lives along the way. Dystopia looms large in these pages, not one decades or centuries away, either; this is a 15-minutes into the future dystopia.

I can’t talk much more about the plot — or most of the characters — without giving too much away. So I’ll just say there are a lot of well-drawn characters trying to do their best at work here. Without exception, everyone of Matt’s allies would be someone I’d like to have more of (not saying that we didn’t get sufficient time with them, just that they were interesting enough to have around more).

And then there are (for wont of a different phrase) the bad guys. With one exception (Claussen’s security chief, Angela Vaughn), these are not well drawn, or that interesting — they’re evil, and that’s about it. Which makes it easier to root against them, but harder to get invested in them as characters.

I’ve got a couple of minor quibbles, and one that’s pretty big. First, for people thus concerned with being spied on, Matt and his allies sure do use their smartphones a lot. Also, the timeline is sometimes too hard to track with, it’s unclear frequently when we’re getting a flashback — and how far back we’re flashing — or when we’re back to “the present.” Lastly, governmental agencies move a little too quickly at the end — probably the hardest part to believe.

My biggest problem with the book was, to me, fairly significant, and ended up toning down my enthusiasm for recommending it. There’s a chapter (maybe two, but I’m pretty sure it was one) wherein Claussen meets with the men with the money and government clout needed to fully implement his plan. A lot of what is revealed about the plan, we readers knew and/or surmised from what had been hinted at, suggested, etc. before. But before it had been shown to us, here it was told to us. And not in a very interesting way — it was basically the part of a James Bond flick where the villain tells Bond his plan just before he leaves him to die (which, of course, he doesn’t). This time there were no Bonds around, just the people who’d enable the villain’s plan. The evil was as plain as day here, and told in the kind of detail no one needed — the only thing missing from this were the conspirators twirling their mustaches. Seriously, you take out this chapter (or edit it a lot), and this book would’ve got a higher rating from me.

Add a little more gray to this, tone down the villains just a shade, and you’ve got yourself a knock out. As it is, it’s a pretty good read — and a chilling reminder of what could be around the corner. The tech feels real, the police state imposed doesn’t sound that far-fetched, the aims of the conspirators carry the feel of legitimacy. This rings entirely of something that could’ve been ripped from the headlines — but thankfully wasn’t (I think). You will keep turning pages, wanting to know what happens to Matt and the rest — you’ll appreciate some small flashes of humanity and the courage that resides in unlikely places.

Give this one a shot. Not only will you probably enjoy this, but like me, you’ll want to get your hands on more by Waldron.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest thoughts.

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3.5 Stars