It’s been a good few years since we last spent time with Matthew Reilly’s heroic, maverick marine Shane Schofield (callsign Scarecrow). His last adventure (not counting 2005’s novella Hell Island), appropriately named Scarecrow, was published in 2003. Since then Reilly has been preoccupied with the more child-friendly Indiana-Jonesesque Jack West who has had to overcome gargantuan odds on his quests for variously numbered wonders, stones and warriors. However, although I have become increasingly immune to the West novels, I find it very hard to tire of Scarecrow and his righthand woman Mother. I counted the days to the publication of Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves this February and, when the date finally arrived and I snapped it up, it did exactly what I wanted it to do. It may have been preposterous, it may even have challenged the laws of physics and nature, but it was a thrilling rollercoaster of an Arctic ride from start to finish.
Not since Scarecrow’s first outing – to Antarctica in Ice Station back in 1998 – have the polar regions been this entertaining.
As Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves begins, there’s barely a man, woman or child in France who doesn’t want Scarecrow dead. Shunted off by the American government to hopeful obscurity in the Arctic testing bizarre equipment, it seems that fate is at work. When the mysterious and deadly Army of Thieves turns up at Dragon Island, an Arctic base that survives only as a terrifying reminder of the horrors that were developed there by the Russians during the Cold War, Scarecrow and his pitifully small team is the only force that stands between the Army’s cold blooded torturing leader and the obliteration by fire of the entire northern hemisphere. The clock is ticking.
Fortunately, Scarecrow is not alone. In addition to Mother (recovered from having her leg bitten off by a giant killer whale in Ice Station), who is as noisy in her affections for Scarecrow as ever, there are a couple of other marines, a few scientists, an endearing little fiery robot and a small group of elite French soldiers intent on satisfying the honour of their nation by killing Scarecrow several times over. Luckily for Scarecrow, the end of the world temporarily takes precedent.
I hope that Matthew Reilly had as good a time writing this book as I had reading it. Its aim was to entertain and it certainly succeeded. I smiled and laughed out loud all the way through, not at it but with it. Parts of the tale are so horrifically revolting that I did feel a little weak but only in a fun way. The prose marches along, straightforward, to the point, extremely descriptive and brilliantly exciting. We race along with Scarecrow and his team through a succession of traps and ambushes, all the time given frightening glimpses of what is surely the most unpleasant Army of Thieves that could be imagined. How can one not enjoy a thriller when many of the baddies are named after types of shark?
This novel is every bit as good as I remember the other Scarecrow novels being, although I think the maps in the treebook may make some of the escapades a little clearer than those in the kindle version. I do hope we don’t have to wait as many years for the next adventure of this brave, heroic, loyal and loving (and sometimes wonderfully emotional) marine with the scarecrow eyes.
Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves may, though, have left me with serious rat issues.