I don’t post about every book I try and then give up on. If I only read a few pages — say, fifty or so — I don’t think it’s enough to write anything about. But I forced myself through 200 pages of David Ignatius’s espionage thriller Bloodmoney, and I feel I owe it to myself to tell you about it.
The book opens with a prologue. Can I share with you that I hate prologues? Why can’t you just make that into chapter one? So, but okay, it’s about a man in Pakistan whose family is killed by American bombers. He swears revenge on the CIA. We aren’t supposed to know who this man is, except for his code name, because he’s extremely mysterious and can penetrate the West without becoming known. Let me spoil it for you by saying that three chapters later, we find out exactly who this person is. Great suspense!
We then make our way to a semi-official offshoot of the CIA, run by a hard-nosed, macho guy. One of his agents is (can you guess yet?) a young, successful, beautiful woman. They’ve had two agents killed, and they have to figure out what’s happening. Macho Guy won’t let Pretty Girl have the information she needs, so she has to go around, and when she does, she gets yelled at. When she gets the information, it’s incredibly boring information: stock market stuff, oil shares, nothing at all to do with the dead agents, whom we’ve totally forgotten about. Enter Urbane British Stock Market Guy who is Not Soulless Despite Being a Stock Market Guy. He has a “system” of insider trading, which is right because the American government said so? Shoot me now.
Seriously, people, there could not have been more clichés in this horrible book. The plot was overwritten, confused, and stunningly boring. The characters were shallow and predictable. The writing! Oh my God, the writing was so poor. The author seemed to think that by writing common phrases wrong, he was being original. You know the phrase that means “you really messed up this time” that goes “you really screwed the pooch”? Well, he said, “you really shot the pooch.” Huh? Or what about when he was trying to convey that someone was tight-lipped and conservative: “He wouldn’t talk if his pants were on fire.” What, now? I can imagine several colorful (and normal) ways to say that: “He wouldn’t say shit if he had a mouthful” or even “He wouldn’t ask for water if his pants were on fire.” But honestly, I wouldn’t stop for a chat if my pants were on fire, either.
I read 200 pages of this terrible book because it’s up next for my book club. I love the people in my book club, but I am going to have to stop reading most of their terrible selections. If you want to read some good spy thrillers, try Alan Furst (mostly set in World War II, fabulous atmospheric novels) or Charles McCarry (contemporary CIA or political thrillers, coolly written.) Save yourself: this one shot the pooch.