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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Madmen of Benghazi

Gérard de Villiers

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To purchase The Madmen of Benghazi

Title: The Madmen of Benghazi
Author: Gérard de Villiers
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 260 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Madmen of Benghazi - US
The Madmen of Benghazi - UK
The Madmen of Benghazi - Canada
Les fous de Benghazi - Canada
Les fous de Benghazi - France
  • French title: Les fous de Benghazi
  • A Malko Linge Novel
  • SAS 191
  • Translated by William Rodarmor

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly simple but satisfying little thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/10/2014 Christopher Rice
Publishers Weekly . 30/6/2014 .
Wall St. Journal . 8/8/2014 Edward N. Luttwak

  From the Reviews:
  • "Linge seems animated by a grim fatalism that somehow makes this slender novel tedious despite James Patterson-style pacing. (...) The Madmen of Benghazi feels like a perfunctory, if bloody, trip through a tortured part of the world that could use a deeper level of analysis even from the fiction writers who visit it." - Christopher Rice, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The book is short, blazingly fast, and full of explicit sex. Readers may wonder why American publishers waited so long to bring the series to this country." - Publishers Weekly

  • "He writes as a hardheaded political realist, anti-dictator in general (with none of the easy liberal indulgence for left-wing dictators so common among French intellectuals), actively anti-Communist while the Cold War lasted, and firmly anti-Islamist since then. He is what some might call politically incorrect -- in other words, his books tell unvarnished truths that many prefer to ignore. (...) Still, as a writer de Villiers had a serious shortcoming: The man could not write. (...) Indeed his French prose is so mechanical, so flat and so replete with Franglais (...) that William Rodarmor's English translation of Madmen is actually better than the original. " - Edward N. Luttwak, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Malko Linge likely isn't a household name to most English-speaking readers, but The Madmen of Benghazi is the 191st of de Villiers' S.A.S. ('Son Altesse Sérénissime') novels featuring the Austrian prince who dabbles in James Bond-like spy work:

If it weren't for his freelance CIA work, Malko would be just another impoverished Austrian nobleman, probably renting out his ancestral home for business retreats. But Malko had some highly specialized talents that the CIA employed on a regular basis. The agency paid top dollar, but in exchange gave him the riskiest assignments.
       Malko seems to be getting short-changed a bit -- you'd figure 'top-dollar' would have let him make the necessary renovations to his beloved Liezen castle and covered any ruinous heating bills by now, after so many adventures, but, no, when the CIA comes calling he's yet again in need of additional funds and in no position to refuse. As to his 'specialized talents', those seem to mainly involve his way with the ladies, as Malko is an expert seducer. He has his other talents, but isn't your prototypical super-spy -- quick with the gun, dispatching anyone who gets in his way, etc. -- which makes him a slightly more believable figure than many espionage action-heroes.
       Over a dozen of the Malko-novels have been translated into English -- mainly in the mid-1970s -- but the series, with its focus on international intrigue and exotic locales, often closely mirroring current events -- never really seemed to catch on among US/UK readers; perhaps especially American readers will prove more receptive to the relatively recent The Madmen of Benghazi (written in 2011, and with the death of Qaddafi an incidental part of the plot) -- though there's nothing here for Clinton-conspiracists ....
       Malko's handler here, Cairo CIA station chief Jerry Tombstone, explains the situation: Prince Ibrahim al-Senussi, the grandson of former Libyan king Idris (the one Qaddafi overthrew) lives a life of very comfortable exile in England but now sees an opportunity to return to full majestic glory, in a new Libyan government -- an idea the British put in his head, in the hopes of having a friendly figure at the helm. Operation Sunrise, they call it. Everything is in turmoil at the moment ("a free-form cluster fuck", Tombstone helpfully describes it) -- Qaddafi is still alive (though no longer in power) when the novel begins, after all -- but eventually surely everything will settle down, and why shouldn't al-Senussi become the head of state ? Of course, he has his own sort of ideas what that would mean and be like:
When the British originally suggested that he could be the next king of Libya, he'd found the idea very attractive. He'd imagined leisurely chats, with lots of tea and cakes, with friendly civilized people.
       Al-Senussi heads to Cairo, to discuss the future with some powerful Libyan figures -- in particular the Islamist Abu Bukatalla, who claims he's willing to support a constitutional monarchy with al-Senussi at the helm but in fact has very different things in mind for Libya, and who lures al-Senussi to Cairo in order to kill him. The CIA and British Intelligence are onto Abu Bukatalla, and mean to protect al-Senussi -- without him being too aware of that -- and that's where Malko comes in.
       Al-Senussi is head over heels in love with a new conquest, Cynthia Mulligan, and he convinces her to join him in Cairo. Malko's job is to seduce her, as an additional means of keeping tabs on al-Senussi.
       Abu Bukatalla is a fairly well-organized and worthy adversary -- Malko is soon on his radar, for example, so hardly working undercover (except regarding Cynthia ...) -- and the need to keep al-Senussi unaware that he is a puppet being watched over by the CIA make for some decent adventure, especially once al-Senussi is lured to lawless Libya proper. Keeping Cynthia on board and part of the plot is more of a stretch -- Malko convinces her to join him on an excursion to war-torn Benghazi ("a friendly city -- it just wasn't all that safe") ... -- and she doesn't really seem to grasp quite where she finds herself, but along with al-Senussi's own over-sexed delusion, makes for some comic relief.
       The confrontations and action are quite well done -- fast-paced, quite exciting, a decent chess-game of moves and counter-moves -- with a satisfying (if a bit far-fetched) conclusion of Malko saving the day (if not Operation Sunrise, on which it was pretty clear the sun was going to set as soon as the would-be king's character was revealed more closely).
       Sex is also central to The Madmen of Benghazi -- it begins with al-Senussi stark naked -- and Malko's ways with women do help propel (and complicate) matters. Apparently there's a: "longtime fiancée, Alexandra" back home (unwilling to accompany Malko to Cairo, but granting him: "a quickie on the road" as she accompanies him to the airport), but otherwise Cynthia is the center of attention. Of course, she falls for Malko, too. In any case, there's lots of sex -- usually of the hard and fast sort: de Villiers builds up a bit, but barely lingers over his descriptions, so it goes reasonably well with the flow of the novel as a whole.
       Of course, sex -- especially repeated sex -- is hard to describe well, and de Villiers does resort to some rather fanciful locutions. Yes, this is the sort of book that includes descriptions such as: "His prick was so stiff, he could have cracked nuts with it" (a trick worth seeing, one would imagine ...). And while Malko may not be superhuman in the spy-department, he apparently does have a superhuman effect on the ladies:
     His eye caught Cynthia's, and the young woman thought she felt an electric shock in her groin. She realized that she was completely aroused and that her thighs were parting of their own accord. If Malko had taken her right there on the steps in front of everybody, she wouldn't have resisted.
       Yes, there's definitely a male-fantasy element to the S.A.S. novels, its leading man one that has women finding their thighs parting of their own accord ... but the international intrigue and action, though also simplified and fanciful, make these a cut above generic pulp spy fiction. No doubt, it's formulaic -- but if this is iteration 191, de Villiers had a fine understanding of formula, and how to vary it just enough. De Villiers had a pretty good grasp of current events, and while there's a lot that's implausible here, enough is solidly grounded in real-life events to add a feel of real substance here. Admirably, too, de Villiers doesn't try to do too much with the surrounding real events: Qaddafi's death here remains entirely incidental, and isn't forced into the story (as many thriller-writers would surely have been tempted to do).
       Yes, it's pulp spy fiction -- fairly shallow, light, and rather unbelievably over-sexed -- but it's a very satisfying example of the genre, and good lite fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 July 2014

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The Madmen of Benghazi: Reviews: Gérard de Villiers: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French pulp-thriller-author Gérard de Villiers lived 1929 to 2013.

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