The Silent Man: 06/04/09
The Silent Man by Alex Berenson is the third installment in the John Wells suspense-thriller series. In this one Wells goes undercover to post Cold War Russia to stop a plot to build a nuclear bomb that can be detonated on American soil.
By itself, a plot to stop a bomb can be a quick page turner. With enough care for building suspense by keeping the reader in the know and the hero always on the edge of danger. The details of political maneuvering can add depth to such a book and provide a greater social commentary (see Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana). The Silent Man is certainly action packed and is full of last year's politics but the pacing of the plot is too fast for any of it to gel.
In the style of a summer blockbuster, Berenson rapidly switches between characters and locations with little or no warning. Sometimes a scene will be a little as a sentence or two. I don't mind short chapters or short scenes but I found the rapid cutting between locations too much for me. I never really got to know any of the characters, even the protagonist John Wells and the people he's closest too.
I read half way through the book and then skimmed the rest. The deal breaker for me was the personal nature of the attack. A character who was apparently the antagonist in a previous book comes back to plot his revenge against Wells and everyone close to him. I'm never a fan of this type of plot. Political thrillers that take themselves seriously but include a "and your little dog Toto too" plot cease having any credibility for me. There's nothing wrong with that plot device if the overall series is silly (Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt books). But if the series is for the most part a straight up thriller (the Jason Bourne series) then things fall apart when the criminals start international plots just to get back at one agent.
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