This is my review of The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen.
“The Destroyers” of the title is a reference to the childhood game played by narrator Ian and his friend Charlie, in which they vied for ever more ingenious way of extricating themselves from violent attacks by assassins in black balaclavas. Charlie seems to have carried this lust for risk combined with a sense of immunity into adult life, an ominous recipe for disaster as he tries to establish a business of his own, separate from the construction empire of his ruthless Greek-Cypriot father.
Emotionally scarred by the sense of his father’s rejection in setting up home with a new wife and more favoured children, Ian has rejected capitalism to the extent of trying to side with the exploited workers of his father’s international babyfood company. Penniless, he seeks out Charlie (with whom he has had no contact for eight years!) on the island of Patmos, a photogenic setting for a thriller, in the hopes of obtaining some much-needed cash, only to find himself caught up in a sinister mystery. Less extrovert, with apparently good intentions which only confirm the old adage by paving the way to his personal hell, is Ian a reliable narrator, or will he prove to be the real villain of the piece?
Christopher Bollen may have overreached himself in his ambition. A self-styled fan of Agatha Christie, he clearly aims to achieve not only a page-turning crime mystery, but also an original literary style, analysis of human relationships and sharp social comment in a topical political context, in this case a Greece burdened with austerity, with Patmos a bizarre blend of worldly Orthodox priests, affluent tourists, stoned evangelising hippy Christians and desperate Syrian refugees floating in on leaky boats.
For me, Bollen has only partly succeeded. From the outset, I was alternately dazzled and irritated by the unusual metaphors and unexpected choice of adjectives, which often create an overly contrived, even jarring effect. For instance, writing of a hangover: “Overnight, my mouth has transformed into a shrivelled diving board slung over a septic pool. The grim condominium complex that surrounds it – i.e., the rest of my head- is experiencing a rash of small electrical fires”. On reflection, this may be a string of brilliant analogies, but page after page of pumped up creativity can make for an exhausting read.
Although I never cared much about the characters, they are well-developed, often through some strong dialogue, the suitably twisty plot has been carefully constructed, but despite a few dramatic scenes, some of which are quite implausible, it often drags, and the conclusion, too bent on tying up loose ends, seems rushed and disappointing to the extent of seeming a bit of a “cop-out”. I suppose that the roller-coaster flights of fancy are a fundamental part of the author’s style, so perhaps it is the more redundant, repetitious verbiage that an editor should have honed to reduce the book by a hundred pages or so.