I wasn't sure what to expect when a review copy of Victor Robert Lee's Performance Anomalies landed on my doormat. It comes from publishers Perimeter Six, whose tagline is "Stories that make the brave world yours", and is described as a "provocative novel of intrigue". Hmmm curiouser and curiouser !
We are rapidly introduced to the hero (or anti-hero?) of the story, the rather mysterious Cono. He's a very perplexing character full of ambiguities and unknowns - he's a loose cannon who claims to belong to and work for no country so it's hard to know what he believes in and what his hidden agenda is. He's a loner who seems to travel the world, responding to cries for help from his few friends (and with friends like these, who needs enemies?) or getting out of hot spots when things become too dangerous. We learn that he is an orphan and that he witnessed his father killing his mother as a child, which maybe explains how he was drawn into working for random dubious organisations and governments around the world with no sense of belonging anywhere. He also has a strange gift (or curse, depending on how you look at it) - he has a hyper-fast neurological system which enables him to see things in slow motion, giving him almost super-human reflexes such as dodging speeding bullets and reacting to things that nobody else has even noticed yet. I could see him being portrayed on the big screen by someone like an 80's-style Arnold Schwarzenegger !
I have to admit, much of the political background went slightly over my head. The novel explores the expansion of Beijing’s imperial reach into Central Asia, and the takeover of Kazakhstan, areas which I'm not overly familiar with, but I know the current tension over China's desire to expand territorially makes it very topical.
I was more touched by the drama going on on a much more human level. Cono has a hard time time trusting anybody but once he has a friend, he is loyal to a fault, especially when this loyalty frequently seems to be sadly misplaced. The tales of human despair and betrayal add a deeper level to the more "Boys' Own action story going on in the foreground, complete with jihadists, explosions, secret arms caches in caves and damsels in distress who need rescuing.
It's an interesting read and Cono is an intriguing character who I would like to see reappear in subsequent novels because I'm sure there is a lot more to discover beneath his enigmatic exterior.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £15.31
Hardcover: 290 pages
Publisher: Perimeter Six (20 Dec 2012)
Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 2.1 cm
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
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