Friday, 17 February 2012

Review: Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly

At an abandoned Soviet base in the Arctic, the battle to save the world has begun...


It is a top-secret base known only as Dragon Island. A long-forgotten relic of the Cold War, it houses a weapon of terrible destructive force, a weapon that has just been re-activated...


When Dragon Island is seized by a brutal terrorist force calling itself the Army of Thieves, the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and there are no crack units close enough to get there in time to stop the Army setting off the weapon.


Except, that is, for a small equipment-testing team up in the Arctic led by a Marine captain named Schofield, call-sign SCARECROW. It's not a strike force; just a handful of Marines and civilians. It's not equipped to attack a fortified island held by a vicious army. But Scarecrow will lead the team in anyway, because someone has to.


Matthew Reilly books are like Marmite - you either love them or hate them. Those who hate them (and you seem to be in the minority) prefer their literature to be everything that Matt Reilly's books aren't - dull, boring, realistic, yawn-inducing, pretentious... I could go on. Those who love Matt Reilly's books seek escape their their humdrum lives. They want to read about impossible car chases, multiple death-defying escapades, enough gunfights to keep a munitions factory in business for decades, and page after page of non-stop, hi-octane, explosive entertainment. Matthew Reilly's books are the written equivalent of a Michael Bay film, but infinitely better. 

And I love them!

To say they are my guilty pleasure would be inaccurate, as I have never felt guilty about reading one of his books. In fact, I like them so much that I have read some of them multiple times, and my favourites have always been those featuring his seemingly indestructible protagonist, Shane 'Scarecrow' Schofield. It has been eight or nine long years since Matthew Reilly published a book featuring this character, and he has been sorely missed by me and legions of fans around the world. Yes, I enjoyed his Jack West trilogy a lot (see my review of The Five Greatest Warriors here), but they weren't Scarecrow books, and for me this meant they had a little something missing. I think I literally leapt with joy then when I heard that there was another Shane Schofield book scheduled, and leapt even higher when a copy came through my door, sent by the lovely people at Orion. They also very cleverly timed it to arrive at the beginning of half term, so I put aside a day especially for it, and was able to revel in the rare luxury of reading a book by one of my favourite authors in a single sitting.

The book begins with a series of daring escapes and heists by a previously unknown group, calling themselves the Army of Thieves. Very soon the world is being held to ransom by a group which has taken control of a secret Russian weapons facility in the Arctic, supposedly shut down following the end of the Cold war, but now very much up and running. This group claims that it has the means to set the atmosphere alight, with a fire that will destroy most of the world as we know it. Initial attempts by the Russian government to eliminate this threat meet with disaster, and it would appear that nothing or nobody is going to be able to prevent them.

Did I say nothing or nobody? Hmmmm. What if a certain marine just happened to be in the area? But no, surely that would be too much of a coincidence? Hell it is - this is a Matthew Reilly book!!!

Schofield has made a lot of enemies over the course of his adventures, and the French especially have put quite a hefty price on his head. His superiors feel that out of sight, out of mind is the best policy at the moment, and so he is relegated to help out on a mission to test the latest in weapons technology in the harsh Arctic environment. As ever, he is joined by the ever faithful Mother, who would rather take part in a pretty demeaning task with Shane Schofield, than any other kind of mission without him. And so we have:
  • bad guys in the Arctic - check
  • seemingly impossible situation where the fate of the world is in danger - check
  • Shane Schofield in the Arctic - check
  • Mother in the Arctic - check
  • cue mayhem!
Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is Matthew Reilly at his very best. By now, if you have read any of his books you will know exactly what kind of things to expect and all are present and correct: bloody nasty villains; twists, turns and treachery aplenty; jaw-dropping WTF scenes that any other author would not get away with writing; really nasty torture scenes (Mr R has never shied away from inflicting pain on his main characters); and the best action scenes around (nobody writes action like Reilly). And the fact that in the last Schofield book, Scarecrow, Matt Reilly killed off one of his very popular main characters, you are now constantly fearing for the safety of everyone on the mission as there is no longer any guarantee that all with survive until the final page.

If you love the likes of James Rollins, Scott Mariani and Andy McDermott and you have somehow not yet discovered Matthew Reilly then I cannot recommend his books highly enough. For maximum reading pleasure I would advise you to read the books in order (Ice Station, Area 7, Scarecrow, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves). If you like action and adventure then I promise you that you won't regret it.


  1. I have to agree with you entirely - althought I haven't read this book, I have read and loved Matthew Reilly's other books and I always think of them as a blockbuster in book form! Tongue in cheek and just loads of fun Reilly is really one of my favourite authors for pure escapism! Great review - I will have to get my copy soon. :)

  2. Great review! Have never read Scarecrow but have read the Jack West Jnr series. They may be about as far as you can get from having any literary merit, but they're extremely difficult to put down! And if you can't enjoy a book like that at times (as, clearly, some of Reilly's detractors can't), then I feel sorry for you.

  3. Mel - deinfitely blockbuster material and I am surprised Hollywood hasn't already made films of some of his books as they are made to be on the big screen.

    YA Yeah Yeah - The Scarecrow books are brilliant, although I first 'discovered' Matt Reilly's books through Temple, a standalone book.

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  5. Hay
    Awesome write up!
    Old Mr Reilly is a legend! The old books I can't wait to read.
    Question... Is it that imperative that you read them in order?
    I am traveling and have no access to previous books after, ice station and before, Army of thieves.

  6. Hmm, tricky one. Something happens in Scarecrow that could be described as a significant incident in the life of Schofield, and this is referred to on a number of occasions in Army of Thieves. For this reason, if you can lay your hands on a copy then it is well worth reading before you read Army of Thieves.