Year 4 / Book 45: Beside the Syrian Sea


45) Beside the Syrian Sea by James Wolff

As anyone who’s read the last several reviews will be able to tell, it’s been mostly crime and thrillers in the last few weeks – and mostly the quality has been high. I had high hopes for this as well, as it came armed with blurbs and quotes galore from everyone from Ann Cleeves to James Naughtie. I have to say that I found it profoundly disappointing, rather than “compelling” and confusing rather than “dazzling and diamond sharp“.

We are promised a tale of a man who’s trying to rescue his father (a priest taken hostage) who is trying to play various sides off against each other, pretending to do a ‘Snowden’ in order to prompt action – and attention. That in itself, and the promise of a ‘grittily realistic’ view of Beirut and (later) Syria, had my appetite suitably whetted. But I found it to be poorly structured and difficult to follow, especially in the earlier chapters – it was slow and meandering, with lots of dialogue and little forward propulsion of plot, and what (I think) was meant to be complexity only served to mask any of the better ideas there might have been in the book.

The central figure Jonas became bloody annoying after a while, seemingly taking ages to have dramatic dialogues and take wrong turnings, when we all knew what he was up to anyway. And some of the interminable cod-Le Carré stuff just became frustrating rather than building any sense of suspense. And I didn’t believe any of the characters – from the intermediary priest to the woman wanting asylum to the spies who all seemed caricatured.

Oh, and when something finally happens, it seemed fairly bloody preposterous – as they go through borders like a Brexit deal, and casually wander up to where prisoners are held captive. By that point, I just wanted it to be over, as I was committed.

Avoid.

Score: 3.5/10

BUY IT NOW: Beside the Syrian Sea

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