‘Flee’ is a spy thriller by JA Konrath & Ann Voss Peterson. It also happens to be the first Konrath novel I have read. I knew he was one of the most successful – and militant- indie author out there, but I had no idea what kind of a writer he was. Now I know, and I have to say he’s good. Flee was very fast paced, tight, well-written and yes, enjoyable. But…
Okay, here comes the big disclaimer : as a writer I’m sure Konrath has me beat, and so it’s highly presumptuous of me to criticize, however as a reader I am entitled to use the great writers as my benchmark for what I consider to be ‘great’.
So… back to that ‘but’. The first ‘but’ relates to the main character ‘Chandler’. Chandler is a woman. She is also like a cross between the character of Trinity in the Matrix and Martin Q. Blank, from Grosse Point Blank. And yes, you read that correctly, Martin Q. Blank is a male character. That is the problem. The female protagonist in Flee came across as somehow asexual, despite a quite graphic [but well done] sex scene.
Now, to be fair it is always difficult to write believable cross gender characters. Female writers tend to write males who are way too sensitive. Males tend to write females who come across as guys with boobs and hyper-drive libidos. In other words we tend to write what we know and most guys don’t know what it feels like to be a female [and visa versa]. Stephen King achieved this holy grail in ‘Dolores Claiborne’, and Mark Beyer did a creditable job getting inside the head of his main female character in ‘The Village Wit’. As a general rule though, the failures far out-weight the successes.
Having said all that, perhaps creating an asexual female character is success, of sorts, however as Konrath collaborated with Ann Voss Peterson I find it odd that between the two of them they couldn’t make Chandler feel more like a woman, especially as her backstory was very good. Perhaps the lack I felt came from the basic premise of the novel – that a woman could be made into one of the best assassins in the world. -shrug- Or perhaps that is my own, personal bias coming through.
Another ‘but’ was the sheer number of near-death experiences Chandler survived. After a while they became rather surreal.
The biggest ‘but’ however, was the lack of something else, something that would have pushed Flee over the edge from good to great, had it been there. ‘The spy who came in from the cold’, by John Le Carre, had that elusive something. It touched a level of humanity beyond gender, and that made it great in my eyes. There were elements in Flee that could have triggered something similar, but the pace was too swift to allow for the kind of digression that would have required.
Again, to be fair, Konrath was not aiming for that sort of a story, so boo hooing over the fact that I didn’t get it seems silly, even to me. The only reason I mention it is because, for me, that level of depth is necessary for any book to be ‘great’.
Summing up, I really enjoyed Flee, and I am glad I read it, however it’s not a book I will suddenly find myself thinking about at odd moments. It is good rather than great, but please don’t let my pickiness stop you from reading it!
December 5th, 2012 at 4:11 am
You raise great points. I am often disappointed how male authors portray female characters and vice versa, and I’m sure I commit similar errors in my writing. But it’s nice to stumble upon those who do it well. Chris Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors, and he gets female characters down well, I think. Sometimes hard to believe the story was written by a man. My favorite of his is “Midwives.” Great read.
December 5th, 2012 at 9:36 am
Oh! I haven’t come across him – I’ll go check Midwives out. Thanks for the tip Carrie!
December 5th, 2012 at 9:44 am
Damn! I just checked it out on Amazon and there doesn’t seem to be a kindle version. Or perhaps there isn’t one for the Australian region. 😦 I might check out Booktopia to see if they have it without the massive postal charge [and long wait].
December 5th, 2012 at 9:53 am
Hopefully you can get a hold of a copy. That book gave me chills, and I can’t say more without giving anything away. But that author is known for his twists.
December 5th, 2012 at 4:03 am
I read your review and will check out Flee, but not without keeping your cautions in mind. Thanks.
December 5th, 2012 at 9:35 am
I’ll be really interested in your reaction Candy. Please drop me a line when you’re done!
December 5th, 2012 at 2:55 am
It’s funny, but that nebulous sense that there was more potential in a story – something that the writer came right up to the edge of on several occassions but left unexplored – is one of the things that puts me off a great number of books, too. At some point, common wisdom for “how to write a popular book” seems to have focused on *not* giving readers any more than they might want. When for me as a reader, I’d almost always prefer writers erred on the other side. It is always possible to skim through part of a book if what’s there doesn’t interest us. Otherwise you’re just left with what are always the four saddest words in the English language: “It might have been.” 😉
December 5th, 2012 at 9:33 am
Yes! And yet defining what might have been is so hard, never mind actually achieving it. I know I’m obsessed with character and that thing called ‘humanity’, but someone else could easily need something else entirely. For my money, you hit it with John Deskata in book 3, but I’ll bet there were a lot of people who found his character development disturbing. -shrug-
Maybe that’s why the books that truly touch me don’t end up on the best seller lists. 😦
December 5th, 2012 at 1:23 am
You’re exceptionally perceptive in picking up things that others might not notice.Possibly some may not like the book and not know why, those may suddenly nod now and say ” So that’s why”.
One thing is for certain, you certainly know what a great book achieves.
December 5th, 2012 at 9:25 am
Thank you David. Spy thrillers aren’t really my genre, and I’ll admit I was struggling to put my feeling into words until I remembered that Le Carre novel. I only read it once, year ago, and yet it has stuck with me.