‘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!