Audiobook Review: The Right Hand by Derek Haas

14 11 2012

The Right Hand by Derek Haas

Read By Kevin Stillwell

Hachette Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 22 Min

Genre: Spy Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Right Hand is a straight forward old school style spy thriller with an engaging character, a complex but easy to follow plot and a whole lot of action. Hass has created a fun new character, who doesn’t feel like your typical superhero, do-no- wrong spy, giving the story a feeling of simple authenticity. Fans of old school spy thrillers should have a lot of fun with this novel.

Grade: B

As a child of the 80’s, for me, Russia will always be my boogeyman. With the changing political climate, we hear about threats from the Middle East, China, North Korea, and even Venezuela. Yet, I remember the days when the US and the Western nations were involved in a MAD cold war conflict with Russia that very well could have resulted in a New World War at the very least. While my childhood was at the tail end of this struggle, I remember watching movies like Dawn’s Early Light and The Day After and reading Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, and genuinely being afraid that one day the bombs would rain down on us. As the political landscape changed, so did our fictional enemies. Even Tom Clancy moves away from the Soviet enemies that his intelligence and military characters were forced to deal with in The Hunt for Red October, The Cardinal of the Kremlin and Red Storm Rising, to more multicultural enemies like the Middle East, South America drug Cartels, and even those pesky Japanese. I think this was when I sort of fell out of love with the spy thriller. Oh, sure, I always enjoy the Hot girl kicking ass TV versions of espionage you would see in Alias or Nikita, but I used to love the old cold war era, deep cover spy games that filled the novels of my childhood, and when the world changed, I sort of moved on to new things also. It seems now, Russia isn’t as frightening as they used to be, but, despite appearances I really doubt we are ever going to be true allies. This is what attracted me to The Right Hand, a spy thriller set in Russia. My old school heart just couldn’t resist.

Austin Clay is an autonomous operator in the CIA, tasked with sensitive missions the CIA never wants to see the light of day. Called, The Right Hand based on the old Axiom of the left hand not knowing what the right hand does, Clay is an effective agent for his ability to compartmentalize, and his lack of fear of his own death. Yet, when he is assigned to find a missing agent in Russia who disappeared while searching for a beautiful nanny with dangerous information, Clay finds he can’t separate his admiration for the young nanny and his orders that may out her in harms way. The Right Hand is a straight forward old school style spy thriller with an engaging character, a complex but easy to follow plot and a whole lot of action. Hass takes us into the new Russia, where the old KJB style of corruption, backstabbing and deception may not be as dead as some may think. Austin Clay is a decent character. While competent and highly skilled, he’s not the superhero can-do-no-wrong style spy that we see far too often in thrillers. He’s human, he makes mistakes, and brings with him his own baggage and  history that colors his perception, not always for the best. The story itself is full of the right amount of twists and turns, with a level of complexity that should please the biggest conspiracy buff, while still presenting a scenario that you don’t need a Master’s degree in espionage to figure out. Add to that some fun action, plenty of shadowy characters and a few surprises and you have a solid spy thriller that may not rock your world, but at least it will give it a nice little shake. One thing I especially liked about The Right Hand was it wasn’t a gadget driven, cyber spy novel. Austin Clay wasn’t a master hacker, or super intelligent nerd with some uber-specific skill set that made him the only one who could solve a very specific case. The Right Hand was simply about a human spy, doing human spy things, that while skilled, wasn’t some freakishly obscure skill that serves as the Dues Ex Machina to save the day. This gave The Right Hand a feeling of simple authenticity that served the story well. Fans of old school spy thrillers should have a lot of fun with this novel.

One thing I really like about Kevin Stillwell, is that he doesn’t have the traditional professional voice over performer sound. His voice feels like a real, everyday person. Stillwell’s performance was solid, but with some flaws. I was able to engage with the story, and follow the action well, but at points his pacing felt awkward as if he wasn’t quite comfortable with the words. Also, at points, the transitions from scene to scene didn’t feel, well, transitional. There were times it took me a second to realize we had switched POV. Yet, my biggest complaint was a narrative decision made that I feel detracted from the overall experience of the audiobook. Austin Clay was a spy, working undercover in Russia, often posing as a Russian playwright, or government official. While the Russian characters all had Russia accents, Clay always sounded American, even when he was supposed to sound Russian. This really bothered me, touching off my peevish nature. If a character is pretending to be Russian, he should sound Russian. If a character is pretending to be Donald Duck, he should sound like Donald Duck. There was even a point where the story said he dropped the accent, even though his dialogue was accent free. What frustrated me even more was Stillwell was pretty damn good at his Russian and other accents. I thought his voicing of the Hungarian Nanny, Marika, was excellent, and I thought he could pull off Clay with an accent rather well, he just never did. I really think if it wasn’t for this complaint, I would have really loved the performance, but my peevish nature had trouble getting past this.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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