Fiction - eBook; Harper; 317 pages; 2008.
I never planned on reading Andrew Gross's The Blue Zone but when I found myself stuck on a plane for eight hours and unable to get into my proposed read (which shall remain nameless) I was desperate for some light relief. I flicked through my Sony Reader and came across The Blue Zone, which had been preloaded (along with a handful of Mills & Boon novels -- I know, I know, I know) when I received it, so thought I'd give it a try.
Under normal circumstances I normally avoid these kinds of plot-driven books with thinly drawn characters and cringe-inducing dialogue because I find them a complete waste of time. But it wasn't always this way: I read plenty of best-selling crime thrillers of this ilk in my early 20s before I got bored with their lack of "substance" and moved onto more challenging literature.
Reading The Blue Zone was a not so subtle reminder that my tastes have changed enormously over the past 15 or so years. I hesitate to describe the book as dreadful, because it does have quite an entertaining if totally preposterous plot, but it does come pretty damn close to being one of the worst books I have read this year. I can't say I am surprised. Andrew Gross is the co-author of many of James Patterson's best-selling thrillers, and the one and only time I read any of Patterson's work -- a free chapter taster that came with a daily newspaper a few years ago -- I hated it, so much so I vowed never to read anything by him because I didn't want to waste my time when there were so many other better written novels vying for my attention.
I should have made that same vow for Gross.
But let me tell you a bit about the (overly dramatic and entirely implausible) storyline. The book revolves around a young woman, Kate Raab, whose father, a wealthy Manhattan gold trader, is arrested by the FBI for money laundering. When he agrees to turn witness for the prosecution it means that some nasty Columbian mobsters could put the lives of the picture-perfect Raab family in danger. As a result the family enters the witness protection program and are given new lives and new identities in a new undisclosed location. But Kate, a cancer researcher too caught up in her fledgling career, refuses to co-operate and remains living in New York with her husband. It is only when her best friend and colleague is shot -- a suspected case of mistaken identity -- that Kate begins to understand that she may have made the wrong decision...
Through a series of twists and turns and completely unexpected changes in plot direction, the narrative moves along at an exhaustive pace, and the ending, when it comes, is almost laugh-out-loud funny because it's far from credible.
I'm sure The Blue Zone -- the title refers to the FBI's code for a blown cover -- would make a superb blockbuster movie. Indeed, much of it does read like a screenplay. But as a book it feels too sensational with its overly engineered plot and shallow characters, and for that reason I can't give it more than two stars. This is one for die-hard fans of this genre only -- and even then the most skeptical of you will probably struggle to enjoy it on the basis the story is so farfetched. Mental note: this will be the first -- and last -- Andrew Gross novel I will ever read.