Food for a market – your classic trashy ‘airport novel’. An at times (not deliberately) amusing mix of bullets, biff and bosom-heaving romance. But wait … there’s more: hi-tech CSI-type lab settings; psychotic gangster chick into violence and nudity; rich country house with Ferraris and Porches; sordid family soap opera; underage voyeurism – the list goes on. Follett is out to please, and he serves up whatever he thinks the readers might like.
Sometimes he gets it right. Hey, he’s a best seller – I suppose he gets it right quite a lot. But I’m obviously not his prime target market – it’s a bit tryhard to me. Not quite as tryhard as Tom Clancy’s appalling The Teeth of the Tiger (where, for example, a couple of cool young dudes inexplicably go into raptures about a 50s sex symbol they never would have heard of), but his central character is a telling lesson in what Follett must think is cool. Maybe he is subverting things a bit – it’s a heroine who rescues the hero, and she’s closer to forty than twenty. But I don’t think this is to challenge his audience – rather it’s to say, “Look, feminism, I get it.” But the conventions are still firmly in place: her love object is strong, wealthy, respected and successful, and she’s just sexually overwhelmed in his presence (like a girl is, you know. And there’s an hilarious summary of what Ken must feel is the ultimate sexual technique involving bondage and feathers – heroes and heroines have to be tops in bed, of course. Likewise elsewhere it’s important to Follett to show he’s hip, man, to what kids get up to these days). They’re both leaders in their fields of expertise – as an alpha female she can only fall for an alpha male – and their love apparently blossomed on the squash court (they’re hotties, gettit?). She has her mandatory couple of gay friends: we don’t ever actually meet them, but isn’t it nice to know they’re there.
Should I be sniping at Follett for bothering to paint some features in his characters in what, when you get down to it, is essentially a plot and action driven book? Yeah, I should. But the plot and action are workable. Follett does a decent job of setting up the heist and then describing the perfect crime gradually unravelling. And I suppose for a lot of people, unlike me, the characters were a plus not a minus.