Review: The thriller 'The Island' is marred by clumsy prose

·2 min read

“The Island,” by Ben Coes (St. Martin’s Press)

An army of 500 Iranian terrorists launch an attack on Manhattan, isolating the island by blowing up tunnels and blocking bridges.

They massacre civilians and assault the United Nations building, targeting the U.S. President who is about to give a speech there. And they invade the headquarters of the Federal Reserve, intent on destroying a computer that regulates much of the world’s economy.

Such is the premise of “The Island,” a far-fetched, blood-soaked “thriller” by New York Times best-selling author Ben Coes that offers few thrills, little suspense, and some of the worst prose you are ever likely to see in print.

The violence is cartoonish. The characters are so poorly drawn that it is difficult to care what happens to them. The dialogue rarely resembles the way real people talk. The action is frequently interrupted by tedious, pointlessly detailed descriptions of office furnishing and by long lists of government meeting attendees whose attire is recounted down to the color of their suits. And the plot manages to be both absurd and predictable.

The terrorist leader is described as brilliant, yet he makes preposterous mistakes. For example, he stations bomb-laden vans many miles from their targets and expects them to navigate rush-hour traffic and arrive on time to the second—which they then absurdly do as if by magic. He gets the drop on the hero, secret agent Dewy Andreas, takes his guns away, and neglects to search him, giving the hero the chance to attack him with a knife.

The prose combines short, choppy sentences with clumsy, run-on ones replete with errors of syntax. Occasionally, the author even seems unaware of the definitions of the words he employs. He tells us a terrorist “garroted” an enemy by “dragging the blade across his neck,” but that’s not what “garroted” means. He warns that the terrorists plan to turn Manhattan “into an island, literally,” although it has been one since a link between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers was completed in 1890.

The book is thick with repetitions, some coming only a few words apart. For example, Coes tells us that “every man” at a terrorist meeting knew Dewy Andreas “was the number one enemy of Iran.” Two sentences later, he adds “They all knew what he’d done.” And three sentences later, he writes, “Andreas was a menace to Iran.” There is so much wordiness and repetition that the book easily could be cut by a third.

These are not isolated examples. Bad writing fills every page. The problems are so unrelenting that it is difficult to see what editors could have done other than throw up their hands and weep.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

Bruce DeSilva, The Canadian Press

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