Book Review: Sidney Sheldon's The Phoenix

Learn more about an avenging angel in 'The Phoenix'

The Phoenix

The female protagonist of the new Sidney Sheldonesque novel, The Phoenix, is Ella Praeger, described at one point as “The Group’s new secret weapon, the human receiver, the biological super-camera, an intelligence tool beyond the dreams of even the CIA.” The reader needs to accept this incredulous premise about its elfin heroine – who has been her late parents’ experiment, genetically engineered in vitro, to be born with an advanced and modified brain that can help the cause of The Group, their employer. The group in question happens to be a quiet vigilante team working on the edge of legality. Whenever governments and police fail to punish evil, The Group steps in and attempts to do the needful.

One such successful punishment has been meted out by The Group, 12 years earlier, when a helicopter crashed, killing its two passengers, the Greek crime boss Spyros Petridis and his glamorous charismatic wife Athena.

But, did Athena die as believed, or did she escape the fiery end that almost decimated her husband? Doubts arise in the minds of a few persons with connections to the couple. As the book’s blurb informs, a photograph has been splashed in the media — a migrant child, drowned and washed ashore a Greek beach. What is disconcerting is the mark seen on the child’s heel — a mysterious symbol, a Greek letter. Now, this was the trademark signature of the criminal couple, infamous for branding alphabets on body parts. The husband was definitely dead. But, has Athena returned, risen like the mythical Phoenix?

The story starts at a California ranch where young social misfit Ella Praeger is taking stock of her life, post the death of grandma Praeger who had single-handedly raised the child of son William and his wife Rachael. But Ella knows nothing about them since grandma refused to reveal much. It is left to Gabriel, the handsome and dangerously charming agent in The Group, to find William and Rachel’s grown-up daughter. In due course, he fills in the gaps, tells Ella as much as permissible, persuades her to join The Group, train at their camp, hone her special mental abilities, become their newest agent. A reluctant Ella joins the group — but her personal mission is to find and punish her parents’ killers. She is especially upset about her mother’s manner of death. Meanwhile, The Group head Mark Redmayne simply needs her as an instrument to find the crime syndicate’s successor boss, Makis Alexiadis, as well as Athena, the presumed dead boss lady.

The main action now shifts to Greek islands, where rich crime lords revel in swanky homes. Also, an isolated convent in one of the islands serves as a perfect hideout. Ella, guided by Gabriel, has some close shaves as she tries initially to zero in on the defacto gang boss Makis — who is intrigued by this slip of a girl. Makis is your cardboard villain — a flashy, sexy, ruthless psychopath; once a minion to the old boss Spyros, now running the drug and migrant trafficking route himself, feeling pressurised by an unseen boss lady.

There are heart-stopping moments, such as a boat ride that Ella takes, in her risky quest to close in on Makis. She is ‘this’ close to capture. Along with Ella, there are other characters like the big Libyan Mahmoud, sole survivor, mourning the drowning of his family. He gets into the fray, playing a significant part. The novel is fast-paced and action-filled, a real page-turner through its mid-portions. Ella uses her specially trained genetically modified brain to read emails, hear conversations, even blink and take mental images. The skillful writing makes the outrageous seem plausible. There are scenes set in London, another lucky escape, at a plastic surgeon’s clinic. There is a cinematic quality to these scenes: an elevator, a non-descript laundryman, a sneak attack.

Ella has her own moral doubts while she traverses Greece and London in her revenge quest. Did she have any right to snuff out even evil lives? Her Greek adventure leaves Ella with the feeling of being reborn, a Phoenix. Yet, evil needs to be punished, further wrongs stopped, as The Group insists. Towards the end, as the setting returns to the US, the story drags on, leaving unanswered questions that suggest a sequel. Tilly Bagshawe, a British journalist and writer, has authored chick-lit romances as well as her ‘Sidney Sheldon novels’ – the latter being churned out regularly since Sheldon’s death in 2007. This book is adequate, even topical – but one misses the master.

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