::Literate Blather::
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Book Review: "Red Sea" Kind of Blue

A New Thriller by First-Time Novelist E.A. Benedek Doesn't Quite Pull It Off

The paradox of “Red Sea,” the new espionage thriller by E.A. Benedek, is best illustrated by its beginning and end. The story starts with three commercial airlines being blown out the sky by terrorists. The explosions kill hundreds of innocent people. Benedek brings readers inside the doomed aircrafts – and the prose packs an emotional punch.

The finish, however, takes place on a slow-moving freight ship chugging up the East Coast of the United States. The novel – already bogged down by a muddled middle – crawls to the rather pedestrian conclusion.

“Red Sea” simply runs out of energy and frustrates readers who pine for the clipped, frantic pace of the set-up. It’s too bad. “Red Sea” has so much potential.

In her preface, Benedek, a journalist who wrote extensively about 9/11 attacks for magazines such as Newsweek, explains that she sat down with one of her sources to discuss airline security. When she put a tape recorder in front of him, he seemed unable to talk. “I snapped off the machine and asked him if it would be easier if I tried to tell the story in a work of fiction. Maybe, he said. Maybe,” Benedek writes.

The result was “Red Sea,” but unfortunately, this might not have been the right call. Benedek excels at explaining: showing readers the inside of a federal investigation. She knows her stuff. Her anecdotes about airline security, the holes in port security, and the challenges investigators have with the mounds of red tape are excellent. Her analysis of what probably happened on board the airliners downed by terrorists on 9/11 is fascinating – and rooted in smart guesswork from an expert. It probably could have made a fascinating non-fiction work in and of itself.

But Benedek struggles putting her expertise into fiction. There are too many loose ends, unlikely coincidences, and too many forays into the minutiae involved in a federal counterintelligence investigation. Who really wants two pages explaining all the necessary paperwork FBI agents are forced to write?

But the downfall of “Red Sea” lies in the characters. First, there are too many, way too many. Minor characters float in and out of the story and its difficult too keep track of them. Second, the main characters are flat – none of them are interesting enough to drive the narrative.

Julian Granot, the mysterious Israeli agent, feels cliché, and journalist Marie Peterssen doesn’t feel real – she feels like a composite character created for a novel.

There are two parts of the plot that illustrate the difficulties with "Red Sea." The first is when Peterssen is kidnapped off the streets of Baghdad and held captive for nearly two days. Yet, FBI Agent Morgan Ensley, her romantic interest, isn't even aware that she’s missing. She’s kidnapped, held hostage, and released and the agent who has been wooing her and protecting her is oblivious that she’s even gone.

Second, when Marie is released and back in America, she calls Ensley and this is how she describes Morgan finding out that Marie was kidnapped:

“Then she called Morgan, who didn’t have too many answers for her about her kidnapping but let her know that her repatriation had been the result of a small miracle of diplomacy, although he wouldn’t tell her a thing about it. He was thrilled that she had made it back home and he hoped to get back soon to see her.”

Then Marie goes on the Internet – yes, the Internet – and discovers crucial information that the entire U.S. federal government is unable to locate. She calls Morgan to pass on the information and this is how the conversation starts:

“Morgan,” she said. “It’s Marie.”
“Hey, girl, how are you?”
“Good, good, thanks. Where are you?”
“Closer than you’d think.”
“You in the United States?”
“Something like that.”
Marie was silent, her mind working. “Okay, first thing. Are you trying to stop the ship?”
“How would you come up with an idea like that?” Morgan asked.
“Oh, Morgan. Get over yourself. Get over your secret stuff. We don’t have time for it.”

To make matters worse, the reader already knows about the ship. The reader also knows that Morgan and Marie worked together to discover the threat of the ship. The conversation seems to exist in another world.

This is a common problem with “Red Sea.” Information the reader has is revealed again – suspensefully, as if the details being revealed are new. It gives “Red Sea” are plodding, frustrating pace.

There are a couple of nice twists at the end, however, once you get there, it’s too late.

Grade: C-

A Menu of Tasty Books

5 Questions About: Jane Austen

Deeply, Disappointing Dexter

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar StumbleUpon | Digg! Digg | del.icio.us | Reddit | Technorati Technorati | E-mail a Link E-mail
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
The Template is generated via PsycHo and is Licensed.