Book Review

02/03/2011 § Leave a comment

The Apostle by Brad Thor

Occasionally, I like to delve into some mindless fiction in order to entertain myself and take my mind off the things that are worrying me.  Reading The Apostle reminds me why I don’t do this very often.

The book is, in a word, disappointing.  It starts off rather intriguingly, and offers a lot of promise, but fails to capitalize on it.

The Apostle starts off by introducing the readers to the major players:  Scot Harvath, an ex-special-ops gun for hire; Julia Gallo, a doctor who is kidnapped while working in Afghanistan; Stephanie Gallo, the politically connected mother of Julia; Robert Alden, the corrupt (and liberal) president of the United States; and Special Agent Elise Campbell, a Secret Service agent intent on exposing the president’s corruption.

The main plot focuses on how Harvath must work recover Julia Gallo from her kidnappers.  This seems fairly straightforward, but is immediately complicated when the administration discovers that the terrorist organization that kidnapped Julia Gallo did so in order to trade her for the captured commander.  As such, Harvath must first spring their leader out of prison, offer to trade him, get Julia to safety, and then recapture the terrorist leader.

The primary subplot focuses on Agent Campbell’s attempt to bring down the president.  As a mark of just how truly awful an author Brad Thor is, this subplot is completely unrelated to the main plot.

While the main characters are engaging, the story itself leaves much to be desired.  Brad Thor spends most of the book building up tension to both the main and sub plots, but simply doesn’t capitalize on them.  The exchange of prisoners is brief and lacks punch.  The president is brought down quite easily, and doesn’t even run interference.  Really, the whole book feels lazy.

There is no conflict at all, outside of the obvious military conflict.  Thor seems to recognize this and tries to add some form of moral conflict, but it all feels one-dimensional.  For example, Harvath is deeply committed to his retirement and live-in girlfriend.  He is apparently concerned about the legacy he is going to leave behind, and thus wants no part of a foreign mission.  In spite of his reluctance, Stephanie Gallo and President Alden have a meeting with him to convince him to recover Julia Gallo.  And what is it that convinces him to do this?  A love of Country?  A concern for his fellow man?  What finally convinces him to do it is money.

And Agent Campbell is hardly any better.  She was a “true believer” in President Alden, yet is surprised that he may be corrupt (for crying out loud, the man’s a politician).  And so she must decide if she supports the president or the truth.  But this isn’t much of a conflict repeats how disappointed she is by the president’s failure to live up to his promises.  Thus, her decision to pursue the truth is boring and predictable.

Really, Mr. Thor’s failing as a writer stems from the fact that he is incapable of providing believable moral conflict.  All of the characters are one-dimensional caricatures of farcical stereotypes.  Alden, for example, personifies the worse traits of liberal politicians and appears to be thinly-disguised stand-in for Obama.  Agent Elise represents the grassroots Tea Party, who finally woke up to what “hope” and “change” really means.  Harvath represents both the patriotic soldier archetype, best associated with 24’s Jack Bauer, and the enlightened capitalist.  Julia Gallo represents the well-meaning citizen that is sacrificed by her government.  In this case, sacrifice refers to the government cutting defense spending.

Obviously, there is not much one can do with these characters.  Since they are all one-sided, their paths are mapped out well in advance.  President Alden will be a sniveling whiner trying to hide his corruption.  There will be no hope of redemption, especially since he’s a committed ideologue.  Harvath will take the job offered him at the right price, decrying his personal dislike for the president in the meantime.  Julia Gallo will be confused, and largely extraneous to the story; she cannot so much as act for herself.  And Agent Campbell, now awake to reality, can’t exactly go back to sleep, and must therefore pursue to truth about President Alden.

This predictability makes the whole story feel one-sided and predictable.  There is no doubt about the outcome, and little reason to even read it.

That little reason, though, is the characters.  In spite of being one-sided and thus unable to serve as a vehicle for internal moral conflict, they are very engaging.  Mr. Thor does have a way with words, and is able to make the reader feel as if they really, truly know the characters.  They are easy to sympathize with, and have some depth to them.  And even though they are predictable, there are enough plot wrinkles to provoke interest.

In sum, this book is a good example of poor writing.  The resolution is fast and disappointing, a particularly egregious letdown after the way Thor builds up tension throughout the book.  And though they are engaging, the characters are too shallow and one-sided to overcome the plot’s inherent predictability.  If you do decide to read this book, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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