Book Reviews: Can Cleveland and Bohjalian Live Up to the Hype?

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Can a book get too much praise? Reviews help me decide what to pull from my heaping TBR pile, and when I read good reviews from readers whom I trust, my expectations are high. These expectations led me to look at two recent thrillers in different ways.

Readers have raved about the clever plot in Karen Clevelend’s Need to Know, and any book Louise Penny loves is bound to be good. I was very excited when my book group chose this thriller that had generated so much buzz. Indeed, the smart plotting does not disappoint! One great twist hit me from out of nowhere. However, the characters seem more like concepts than living, breathing people. I could not draw one character in this book with a paper and pencil when I puy the book down. After a great read, I can usually sketch at least the main chapter or the  scariest antagonist. Viv’s interior monologue also becomes a vehicle for telling and not showing. CIA details are mildly interesting. The intriguing theoretical questions asked in the publicity for the book and implied in the book’s opening, “What would you do if it were your husband?” do not make up for the lack of rich characterization.

In contrast, the much anticipated thriller The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian soars even when it seems to stall. It begins with a brutal, fascinating crime and ends with a bang. In the middle, it seems to meander down a  dirty NYC street. But the journey is on the road to a memorable character portrait. Sure it’s a thriller, but it’s also an honest, poignant, and memorable portrait of a female alcoholic. Vivid details even make one realize how international travel can be a lot less glamorous if it’s your day job. Fans of character-driven fiction will find this novel well worth the trip.

 

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