The Disciple – Review: My first military thriller missed its mark

thedisciplecover Title: The Disciple
Author: Stephen Coonts
Published: December 8, 2009 St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Military Thriller
Rating: 2/5

“I felt like the guy who wrote a letter to the Devil informing Him that his soul was for sale.”

I’m not quite sure where to start with this one because it was so all over the place that I’m tempted to just post a pro-con list. Consequently, this review might be a bit scattered as well. Bear with me.

The Disciple is a military thriller. Cheers to the obvious.  The main protagonist is – kind of – Tommy Carmellini: an American spy working in Iran to uncover the Iranian government’s secret nuclear weapons production.  I say “kind of” because there are so many other characters who we get about as much face time with as Carmellini, but he is the only character whose sections were written in first-person. Which was weird, in itself. There were a few supporting characters who, in my opinion, were actually the driving force between any depth that could be gleaned from this novel, and it’s a shame they weren’t examined further. That being said, Coonts did channel Carmellini’s character fairly well. It was easy to grasp who he was on more than a surface-y level just by reading his thoughts, and I did like him enough to root for him, so score 1 for Coonts.

This novel had a pretty ridiculous “twist”. I want to spoil it, but I won’t. You’re welcome. Perhaps the strangest thing about it was the use of the real-life past President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, as the central driving antagonist. The rest of the characters were fictional, but he is a real politician who definitely isn’t nearly as insane as this book made him out to be. This fact made the book feel a bit preachy to me. Like Coonts developed a what-if scenario and then advanced it exactly as he would hope it would turn out if such a thing were to actually happen. Which it won’t. For real. There was some truly interesting insight into Iran’s culture, especially from the viewpoint of women, but it was drowned out by the military aspect of the story and made unbelievable because of the main plotline, which is unfortunate because I think that could have been something I’d really like to read.

Okay, I’ll get back to the book itself. I don’t even remember how I got it, I think it was my dad’s and it looked flashy so I grabbed it without reading the summary. Whoops. Won’t do that again. Because of this, I didn’t expect to enjoy it, which probably led to my extreme skepticism as I read. In my defense, I wasn’t wrong. I love me a good thriller, but this one just didn’t do it for me. It contains very in-detail military combat scenes, which I’m sure were very well researched but I’m just not interested in fighter pilots and guns and tanks. If you are, you may have a completely different reaction and you should ignore everything I say and give it a shot.

Overall, I didn’t hate it. I really didn’t. Coonts isn’t a bad writer, he just didn’t entertain me enough with the plot so I latched on to his imperfections. But I didn’t feel the need to throw the book out the window. I just didn’t enjoy it. The middle section did keep my attention because it had the most “thriller” and the least “military”, but the fact that the ending wrapped up into a nice little bow really frustrated me. Where’s the thrill in predictable? Still, if you are partial to military thrillers, I think you might enjoy this one.

Interesting writing quirks:

  • Varying words for “butt”: fanny, heinie, etc.
  • The phrase “contemplated my navel” is a common occurrence.
  • Explicit scenes are thrown in where you least expect them.
  • One of the characters is an actual human.

I’ll write again soon. Until then, keep reading.

J. Bookish

Found in: Quest No. 1

What’s your take on giving real-life people fictional stories?

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