I'm familiar with The Polish Officer and Dark Star and I was incredibly disappointed with this book. Admittedly, I am interested in spy/espionage/thrillers with tension and suspense driving the characters. This book seemed mired in historical details piled upon details, most of which led nowhere, dramatically speaking, but more a statement by the author about his take on events past. A comparison, though perhaps not a perfect one, would be a very knowledgable history teacher telling a story set in the past in another locale, only to abandon storytelling frequently and elaborate on historical events at that time and place.
Perfunctory bits about the protagonist recalling women brushing up against him, musing about their name, sketching a past event with them, never had me engaged in relationships with them, therefore no sense of loss when things didn't work out, when they were left behind and lost.
Long sections attempting by the author to get into the heart of darkness of a man at odds with his environs and associates, felt like verbal angst from the author, not from character actions and resulting reactions. There were so many characters that in depth exploration was usually a stated opinion of the first person speaker, not displayed by characters Events were introduced in a way that built predictability of their outcome, drained suspense from one section to the next.
It was an effort to stay with this reading until the end, though the reader's character interpretations were captivating in tone at times. I'm not sure of the primary interest of readers who praise it but it's not a book I recommend for hounds of spy, thriller, espionage stories against international and historical backdrops..
I bought this book because of the comments from truly outstanding crime, mystery, thriller writers including Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, and many others,and I can see why these successful writers admire the character details McDonald uses in the book. His fascination and brilliant presentation of tiny specifics of dress, mannerisms, dialogue and silences speak volumes about the characters and unspoken moments that bring emotion to a character. I also watched the videos from Lee Child and Carl Hiaasen. All this led me to believe it was a crime thriller at its heart, which was, in hindsight, an erroneous conclusion. The authors praise, now in re-reading it, is for character development. Audible even said in its intro "...And forget about the genre of mystery..." and quotes praises for being a novelist.
Since I have no history of the McGee character, no emotional connection with earlier publications and editions, as most of the readers who posted here apparently have, I came to it expecting a thrilling read. What I took away was a story which was about ninety percent relationship between Travis and two broken women whom he nursed or attempted to nurse back to health. The last bit of the book became a mystery, action, thriller but I had early on predicted the outcome of the two central characters and, even though the action ending was exceptionally well written, it came too late in the game for me.
Since I am reading the book today, not years ago when it was written, I winced at the weak and apparently helpless women portrayed at every turn of events, all dependent on Travis to rescue and help them. Perhaps for fans who read the book when it was released it calls up memories of characters prevalent in those days, but it simply felt very old fashioned and overly heroic for me, to the extent that I grew anxious and irritated and began wondering why I was listening to it. The extremely whiny voice given to the main female lead enhanced my discomfort. That being said, I have enjoyed many books with strong male lead characters, it's the consistent and overtly weak and helplessness of the females that just doesn't click (with me). Reminds me of the earlier days of cinema when love stories were about the strong man tricking or exploiting the sexy woman to be his.
I work in film and am well aware of successful directors who have been inspired and influenced by earlier filmmakers ( ex. Max Ophuls who Stanley Kubrick said inspired his vision of filmmaking, Alfred Hitchcock who deeply admired Henri-Georges Clouzot) and can appreciate how mystery writers can admire character techniques McDonald employs in his work. But for this reader, the character technique in this book doesn't fulfill my needs for a strong and engaging crime or mystery story.
Knowledge of the locales for the story earns high marks, and two or three scenes had well written tension, while most lacked any semblance of suspense or tension. Part, but not all, of the major problem for me is that the character is not believable.
His dialogue becomes almost comic at times, he repeats words in monologues and in direct address to the point of boredom and amateurish writing, he mutters and thinks out loud and from this he moves on to the next scene.
His character, an ex cop and now a PI, makes decisions that even a rookie cop would not make and don't seem justified in scenes meant to escalate his desire. He speaks like someone who has only seen 40's gangster films and wants to be one of those characters. At times he talks tough but there isn't anything behind it.
The dramatic thrust of the story doesn't hinge on situations or actions that engage the character, rather on his musings. He often simply ruminates in a monologue about wanting to find out more, then we go to a new scene. I never felt there was a strong thrust that kept me involved. This happens in the last two major sections of the book, where you want tension driving the character to risk and pull you, the reader, along.
I don't experience knowledge of a locale to be a substitute for engaging dramatic writing that is rich with tension, suspense and mystery.
I try to avoid comparing writers to other writers and let their work stand on its' own. Having said that, this story, for me, doesn't warrant a read or a listen.
i've heard several books, audible and elsewhere. some i read first, but never read this one or saw the film. the story has excellent character descriptions and actions, believable and character specific dialogue, a well crafted plot with twists that kept pulling me along and details that made the story very engaging and a twist at the end that shifted the focus, for me, of the whole story, actually kind of shocked me.
i found the reader exceptional, able to shift dialects between characters, which kept them, in my minds eye, visually present, clarified who was speaking and gave the words emotional context. this guy is a good reader/actor, in my opinion, and an excellent choice for German, British English and Israeli dialect.
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