Book Review

Book Review: Wrath, by Robert Santoro

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If I were asked to describe this book in one word, it would be “inconsistent.” And quite unfortunately, this inconsistency takes away from a book that has a lot of potential.

FBI Agent Jake Chase is investigating a curious terrorism case. Called at the scene of a bombing at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, Jake quickly realizes that the bombing doesn’t fit the typical pattern of a terrorist attack. Hot on the path of the perpetrators of this heinous crime, Jake soon finds out that his initial hunch was right; the bombing wasn’t an act of terrorism, but the first step of a multi-step plan for revenge, a plan that leads straight back to him.

This book is the first of a series based on the seven deadly sins. Wrath is intense anger on an epic scale, triggered by a real or supposed wrong. The antagonist clearly demonstrates that anger with the scale of the revenge he has in mind. Agent Chase is led through quite a, well, chase, as he tries to stop the next attack.

Wrath is a well written story, demonstrating that the author has a way with words. The story’s beginning is extremely engaging, starting off with an eye popping action sequence that leaves the reader mouth agape. The first couple of pages fly by rapidly, and I started settling in for what I thought would be a page-turner that would keep me up all night.

But it didn’t. Unfortunately, right after the first action-packing pages, the rough read begins. Many mistakes were made by the author — typical, first-time author mistakes — that took away from a great concept, and which made the rest of the book a struggle to get through.

One such mistake is the massive amount of description thrown in a heap at the reader which, following a quick-paced action sequence is unsettling. Most of the information was provided in bulk; perhaps sprinkling it instead over the first few chapters would have made for a much better read.

The major mistake remains the various inconsistencies in the characters’ behaviour. This is the book’s biggest weakness. The lack of character development made for incomprehensible reactions from some of them, which can lead readers to wonder if every character in Wrath has either multiple personality disorder, bipolar disorder – or both.

The protagonist’s wife, Diane, is the most inconsistently portrayed character. She comes from a rich family, is described by Jake as a “classy broad,” apparently has immaculate fashion taste and is of strong character. And yet when she hears about Jake leaving to investigate Paramount’s bombing, she runs off to hide in the house, crying like a teenager dumped by her prom date. Based on the character description we have been given, this reaction makes no sense; she could have been upset, she could have been worried, she could have gone silent, anything but what happened. Nothing given to us in the pages preceding the aforementioned reaction presaged her turning into a angst-ridden teenager, all the more that on page 133, after a particularly cliché monologue about Jake’s incredible contributions to the investigation, Diane turns out to be his biggest supporter.

Then again, on page 114, Diane turns into a baby over the fact that, in the midst of an investigation into a terrorist attack, Jake has to keep his PDA handy. Even more inconsistent is the sheer ignorance of a comment she made on page 123: “I was in Dubai with my father a few months before he was murdered (…). Hardly seemed like terrorists to me.” Just because the few people she interacted with didn’t seem like terrorists, none of them are? Hardly something you would expect a well-travelled, well-educated paediatrician to say.

Perhaps this slip could have passed had the character of the main protagonist, Jake, been well developed – which, unfortunately, isn’t the case. Jake is presented as being cool as a cucumber, remaining calm under extreme pressure, which is one of the reasons he is good at his job. It made no sense when, on page 90, when Jake wasn’t able to see anything of importance on a security tape after his first viewing, he flips outs like a two-year-old having a temper tantrum. It came as such a shock. Had Jake sworn, had he smacked the table with his fist, something that, while sharing his intense frustration, would have by the same token shared his incredible cool, then it would have made sense as well as reinforce the emotional investment of the reader in this character.

Jake does the same type of thing on page 119, throwing a tantrum in public and on the television airwaves. If he is this jumpy, would he really be as good at his job as the author implies he is? The shock of a reaction totally out of the previously expected range also shatters any emotional link the reader had previously made with the character.

Perhaps the author was trying to demonstrate that this case in particular was so difficult that Jake’s coolness was starting to heat up and his shield was falling apart. Again, this would have made the plot so much more interesting, and we see the potential of it throughout the book. But the attempt remained only an awkwardly undertaken one.

By the same token, the plot would have benefited from a bit of honing and tightening. It’s unfortunate, as the idea behind the story (a supposed terrorist attack is revealed to be a quest for misguided justice) has great potential, not only for surprising twists and turns, but also for some great and needed social commentary. But there are too many moments that made no sense and made me flip back a couple of pages to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and these greatly took away from the plot, as it hiccupped along rather than sail smoothly.

At one point, Jake goes to the Los Angeles airport on a tip to interview a man who saw something suspicious. At that time, the bombing was still thought to be a terrorist attack, and we were led to believe that time was short, that the investigating team was moving as fast as possible for fear of a second attack. How come then Jake takes the time to go all the way to the airport on nothing more than vague information, instead of a junior agent? Why was what the man witnessed odd and unsettling? You would think that, with a supposed terrorist attack, there would be many leads to follow up on; no solid reason is given for Jake to have spent precious time following up on this one.

One of the author’s main missed opportunities is Jake’s intuition right from the beginning that the bombing at Paramount studio isn’t a mere terrorist attack. First of all, it would have been more credible if Jake had had a reason for his intuition. Usually, when a seasoned field agent has a hunch, there is something that leads him to follow it through. And however slight that reason might be, it has to be shared with the reader, and it wasn’t. The trust that the reader has to develop in the character’s ability to deal with the situation, gained with Jake’s heroics at the beginning of the book, starts wavering at this point.

Another related inconsistency and missed opportunity is that this hunch is never followed up on. Jake doesn’t keep the reader updated as to the evolution of his hunch that this case is unusual. A bit of reflection on behalf of Jake as to the development of the case would have made this story far more engaging. Instead, I was constantly annoyed at the fact that I was being taken for a ride without being told where I was and what I was seeing.

Another closely related missed opportunity is the lack of deeper reflections from Jake on the case; there is no analysis of the situation, no reference to patterns of behaviours typical to terrorists that would help understand this case, no background check on known terrorist groups for matching patterns of MO and no logic behind the various decisions he makes — for example, the decision to fly all around the country on tax payer money.

Another hugely missed opportunity, one that is all the more important with the current stereotyping in a post 9/11 world, is to address Middle Eastern stereotypes. There are many racist comments scattered throughout the book which made me think, what with the twist in the case, that this would be an indirect lesson: that not all Middle Easterners are terrorists. However that wasn’t the case, not at all; in fact, the way the book was presented seems to reinforce negative stereotypes, which was very disappointing and totally unnecessary.

This blatant use of a negative stereotype about Middle Easterners is of particular concern to those of us preoccupied with the cause of justice and peace. It’s the same problem I had with the show 24. Is it wise to further increase prejudices against a population that has been increasingly stereotyped? Why not use the opportunity that the story takes a unique and unusual twist to create a powerful social commentary?

Another thing that took away even more from the plot is that the author tries too hard. For one, he tries too hard to convince us of Jake’s machoism. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and I would have liked this book better as if I were a man; but to me, it doesn’t seem like the stuff of a more enlightened day and age. Filled with cheesy macho wannabe acts (the most laughable being the scene in the bar, on page 74, where Jake leans over to write “wrath” on the tablecloth of drunk lawyers trying to remember all seven sins) combined with the abovementioned poor character development, it makes some sections of the book downright painful to read. By the same token, the women in Wrath are straight out of the 1950s, emotional sex machines made to please men with next to no personality. Women are objectified sex objects, described as being classy because they are sexy (page 126).

The author also tries too hard to fill his story with glamour by name dropping at almost every single opportunity given to him. There is way too much of it throughout most of the book: Louis Vuitton, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Victoria Bekham, Starbucks etc. Rather than adding class to the story, it makes the characters that should exude class naturally seem classless. Diane’s pedigree should make her a class act of the sort that doesn’t name drop. And it’s not like the author can’t do it; there are a handful of descriptions in the book that exude class without a single name being dropped (p. 127 for example).

Again, the fact that names are dropped could be a subtle social commentary regarding Jake’s lack of pedigree and subsequently being snubbed, however indirectly, by those whose pedigrees are considered impeccable. If this is the case, the commentary is poorly done.

In short, Wrath is an inconsistent book filled with many missed opportunities. However I do hold the hope that the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins series is going to be better as the author becomes more experienced.

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0 thoughts on “Book Review: Wrath, by Robert Santoro

  1. First of all I would like to say excellent blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear
    your mind prior to writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Appreciate it!

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