Latest Review: "The Madmen of Benghazi" by Gerard de Villiers

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by P.T. Smith on The Madmen of Benghazi by Gerard de Villiers, translated by William Rodarmor and out from Vintage/Black Lizard.

Sometimes you want a book to be good. You want it to be amazing, mind-blowing, and one of the best things you’ll have read in months. Sometimes you base this want off of seemingly irrelevant things, like de Villiers’s hat:

And sometimes, judging a book by bit its author’s headgear turns out not that great. But sometimes you can walk away from that book, all eye-rolling aside, having enjoyed certain aspects of it. Isn’t that still in favor of the book and author, to some extent? That the reader still finds something within the text to grab on to? I’d personally say: in some cases, certainly. (Plus, I really, REALLY had high hopes for Villiers’s hat. Sorrynotsorry.)

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In Gerard de Villiers The Madmen of Benghazi, it happened on the sixth page. The aspiring king of Libya, who turns out to be no more than a patsy, is compared to a “sexual tornado” and within six sentences, Villiers assures us that al-Senussi has “an unusually long cock” and his lover, Cynthia, tells him “You’re very big.” As the opening page describes his lover’s body, we know we’re in for absurdly terrible sex scenes—the type that idealize an oil rig as a sexual metaphor and make you hope that the author isn’t as “good” a sex partner as his male heroes, otherwise it’s easy to feel bad for lovers he’s had. This leads to the hope that the book is a winking parody. In this case, the curiosity is heightened by the author photo: is that hat a straight-faced joke, or does he think that dead animal on his head is working for him? Unfortunately, the suspicious remains that it’s the latter, in both situations.

The hero of the book, part of a series of around 200, is Malko Linge, a freelance CIA agent, hired this time solely for his ability to “seduce any woman alive,” the target being Cynthia. Villiers’s work is compared to Ian Fleming, Malko to James Bond, and the connection is easy to see, in both the positives and the negatives. Unfortunately, in reading Fleming, the sexism, the touches of racism (strong in Fleming, mild in Villiers and more due sloppily conceived minor characters in general), are easier to overlook with the adjustment that you are reading fifty-year-old books. It’s rougher when the book is both contemporary and outdated.

Linge is hired, other than to seduce Cynthia, to find out which Muslim terrorists are trying to kill the would-be-king. It is this, the pure spy thriller based aspects that make the rest of Villiers writing so frustrating. The Madmen of Benghazi is set during the time of Gaddafi’s overthrow and the struggle for control of Libya. Villiers uses this historical setting to put multiple factions into play. Different groups—the CIA, journalists, tribal leaders, terrorists—have their own motivations, leading to alliances being drawn and broken, then new ones made. His other books also take place in real-world situations and time periods. By setting his books this way, they separate from Fleming and have a new appeal. It opens the opportunity for an entertaining combination of the news and an over the top spy-world version of it.

For the rest of the review, go here.


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