For the past several weeks, I’ve been immersed in the novels of Nelson DeMille, having gotten started upon the recommendation of a friend. Mr. DeMille, a best-selling author, is a true craftsman. So far, I’ve devoured Plum Island, The Lion’s Game and its sequel, The Lion, plus his latest, The Panther (all centered around one of his major characters, John Corey). I’m now in the midst of The Gatehouse.
What makes his novels so readable? First of all, many of them have a strong sense of place, being centered in and around Long Island, New York, an area of the country which DeMIlle knows well — he grew up and lives there. So there is a huge amount of engaging historical and geographical detail. True, the most recent John Corey novel, The Panther, take us to Yemen, but even there DeMille gives us a detailed and engaging background.
Secondly, at least in the novels I’ve read so far, DeMille writes in the first person singular. So we are in the central character’s head, looking out at the world. This gives us a dual level reality; that is, what our protagonist actually says and observes, in juxtaposition to what he thinks and imagines. And what he thinks is generally phrased in sarcastic and humorous one-liners, the kind of zingers we’d all like to spout, but don’t — this makes for an entertaining read.
Next, DeMille writes very well. His prose is tight and descriptive. Ok, I agree that his latest, The Panther, may not be his best — a few too many pages covering a bit less action than we’d like, and he could have placed more emphasis on the unusual twist towards the end, when we learn who our hero’s true adversaries are, but it is still a good read. And the guy has written so much for so long, maybe we can kick back with him on this most recent. Remember the movie The General’s Daughter, with John Travolta, James Cromwell and Madeline Stowe? That was based on a DeMille novel of the same name.
Lastly, DeMille just writes and writes and writes — you could fill a bookshelf with his work, and it ain’t easy to maintain his level of dedication and focus over decades. Reminds me of advice I received as a young man, aspiring to write, from an older mentor: the art of writing is fundamentally the practice of applying the backside to the seat of the chair!
If you want to get started reading DeMille, I would recommend Plum Island or The Lion’s Game, early in the John Corey sequence. Words of warning: these may be stories that appeal mainly to guys, since the protagonists are manly men (yes, I meant ‘manly’, not ‘mainly’) who aren’t afraid of Islamic terrorists, guns, knives, alcohol, bloodshed or political incorrectness; and for some, such as myself, they may become addictive.