I have read every book W.E.B. Griffin has written. I have enjoyed them so much, in fact, that I pre-ordered The Hostage as soon as it was announced. For the first time, I am disappointed, and deeply so.
Do you Clancy fans remember when Clancy shifted gears from first rate writing to shamelessly churning out junk? You may wonder whether this book represents a similar turning point for Griffin.
One of W.E.B. Griffin's writing strengths has been his sense of what I would call "rhythm." His stories usually tick right along with a wonderful sense of pace that feels authentic. There are periods of quiet movement and periods of jolting, intense action. In The Hostage, however, the periods of quiet seem to occupy almost all the paper between the two covers.
Have you ever been on "hold" on the phone so long that you glance at the clock just to see exactly how long you have actually been on hold? That is the feeling that came over me. Yes, there are a few bursts of interesting action, but painfully few. Only a few of the characters are really interesting, and here I am thinking of Colonel Alfredo Munz who is sharp, unappreciated, and honorable but flawed.
Absent in The Hostage was the quiet but measured build-up of tension . . . a sense something was about to happen. After a hundred or two pages, you get over that and realize you are just... waiting. Don't believe me? You will when you get through pages 451-453 where, incredibly, you are dragged through the entire culinary preparation of Chateuabriand by one of the characters. Whatever Griffin's purpose might have been, the effect is that he is either (a) showing off his kitchen knowledge or (b) simply adding filler to his novel. The "cooking lesson" is a vignette of what is so wrong with the novel. It's a little like this review. Mostly, nothing happens. You wait some, then some more. Maybe just around the next bend. Finally, you realize that you are fast approaching the far cover, so you know something is HAS to happen and right quick. When the final action comes, it is fully expected, entirely devoid of surprise, and ultimately unsatisfying. You close the book, with a sad look on your face, and wonder how this book got published in its final form. Where were the editors?
If Griffin weren't one of my very favorite authors, I would not be so dismayed. In the end, it turns out that The Hostage is ... the reader. I see that others enjoyed this book and I am glad for them. However, if you are a big fan of W. E. B. Griffin, you may decide to do yourself a favor and skip this one. You don't want to feel pity for one of your heroes.