The Judas Strain by James Rollins

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Warnings: may contain spoilers. I read this book in a translation, not English, so I’m sorry if i misspell some names.

So I’m the sort of person who likes reading at work between tasks – and that’s where I came across this book. Someone lent it to me because I complained that I had nothing better to read, and it was… a surprise. Not a bad one, rather the opposite. I can’t say that I’m deeply impressed, but I will admit that I’d like to read the rest of the series it’s a part of.

The Judas Strain, as it turned out after some research on my part, is book #4 out of The Sigma Force series, which is basically what would happen if Dan Brown decided to write 007-esque novels.

My very first compliment to Rollins comes with this – at no point during the book did I feel like I had missed out on reading the previous 3, and I don’t mean that in a  bad way; the narrative gives you enough exposition and character interaction so that you aren’t left confused and barefoot on a beach covered in pebbles wondering where your compass is – everything becomes clear at a steady pace, and while I agree that if you had read the former books, you would actually know more, but new readers are in a good position as well. The characters are actually good enough so that I think that veteran fans of the series are probably excited to see how each of them develops both personally and in their relationships throughout the books.

Having said that, not many of the characters’ personal lives get in the way of the main story, however – another kudos to the author for that one. Only a few times did I feel like the mystery and plot were taking a backseat to their personal dramas, and fewer times than that it really bothered me. I have no complaints with the overall composition, and I have to admit that motivations seemed strong so that I never really questioned the characters’ actions or why they were able to do the things they did.

The only real problem I had, however, managed to ruin a good potion of the book for me, and that is the fact that it was not written like a book. There were many, many instances, in which we were given excess information about someone’s appearance or actions, that were simply unnecessary, or given information at a timing that just didn’t seem quite right, and all of that created the impression that the author was imagining everything like a TV series or a movie. Which, of course, is in itself not a bad thing, but it affected the pacing of the scenes in a way that almost made it annoying to read sometimes. Had this been a TV series, like, say, LOST, I would have definitely enjoyed watching it, and all those little details about someone’s clothes (that were irrelevant to the scene! I understand one particular place that elaborated on a dress Liza got to wear to a meeting, that was given to her by the villain, that was completely fine, but there were times we were definitely given way too much detail on how someone was dressed without any need for it – to reference something Zadie Smith reportedly said) or what someone was doing with an object would have been fine. Like specifically elaborating on the fact that someone or other was using a keycard given to them blah blah time ago to open a secured door – why do I need to know this if you haven’t told us in advance that they got the card, or at all, really? This is what I meant when I said the pacing and timing itself within scenes wasn’t right for a book. Tell the readers in advance the information they might need later – and not when it’s relevant to the scene itself! To continue with the keycard example, I would have been much less annoyed had it just been mentioned when Liza actually got it, and then never brought up again, because it would be obvious she was using it anyway. It would have relevant if I were watching a movie, as there would be a shot of her scanning it, but it has no place in writing. There was another scene including Liza (I keep referencing hers as if the plotline following Pierce didn’t have these problems, although it really did) that actually made me cringe with how misplaced the facts were. The author kept telling us things like ‘with the tests she had previously asked to make’ and such, with nowhere in the text beforehand having told us that. Newsflash: when you write a book, you’re allowed to give information to the reader in advance! It saves a lot when you’re trying to write a character doing something very quickly, because little throw-ins like these just ruin the pacing. And seriously, enough with the clothes already. I really don’t need to know how that shirt accents that (female) character’s body. It’s not cool.

Admittedly, the translation I was reading was also very dry and had no substance, so there is a chance that some of this wasn’t the fault of the author, but you definitely have to know when you try to write a book VS when you try to write a book with the hopes of it becoming a TV series.

But, that one flaw that I could find, didn’t do enough damage to make me throw in the towel, and like the trooper I am, it’s done and finished, and I have to still say – not bad. I’m not totally disgusted and I’ll keep an eye out for more of the series – but this time, in English.

Conclusion: it was unexpectedly enjoyable, annoying (atimes) pacing aside, and I would read the rest of the series – the characters seem intriguing enough, and Rollins knows how to put together a good conspiracy theory plot.

Would I recommend: if you’re a fan of religious conspiracy theories based on unsolved mysteries, go get it. It’s a light read, so you can take it to read on a plane on your way to a beautiful beach resort. Or on your train ride to a mountain. Or whatever ride you wish. Or even at work, as I did. My point is, that it’s very good for a by-the-way book between other tasks.

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