When I was the crime fiction reviewer for the Detroit Free Press, I noticed something strange in the reviewing world. My colleagues would rave about a mystery or thriller, but ignore the fact that it was badly written. I suspect that's what's going to happen with Dick Wolf's debut thriller The Intercept.
In case you don't recognize the name, Wolf is the Emmy-winning producer and creator of Law and Order. I was a devoted viewer of that show through almost all of its twenty seasons, happily watching reruns because I loved the characters, the stories, the New York settings and the dialogue. So I assumed that any book written by Wolf and set in New York would have to be terrific. Unfortunately, his vast skills don't seem to have transferred well to fiction. While there are some exciting scenes in the book, it's weighed down by sometimes amateurish prose.
Here are just a few examples:
"He felt her fingertips chewing into the tops of his shoulders."
"Fisk snapped the ring of circular logic that was squeezing his mind like a tourniquet."
"He was a classically handsome Arab. Dark eyebrows across the top of an angular square face, broad shoulders."
"Fisk had a tight feeling in his gut. A psychic scent."
"Jennsen sat deeply at the end of a suede-covered couch."
"He backed up his thought process again."
These aren't exceptions; surprisingly inept prose appears throughout The Intercept and makes the book read like a first draft, or as if nobody bothered to edit it carefully, because, well, he's Dick Wolf. The dialogue is often wooden, too, and so are many of the characters' reflections, as when an anti-terror cop responds to a mysterious coded terrorist message by concluding, "Something was coming." That's actually the last line of a section and is meant to be a cliff-hanger.
If the book had been carefully edited, Wolf also wouldn't have been allowed to make his secret terrorist painfully obvious from almost the minute that character appears. Wolf points away from the terrorist so insistently that it can't be anyone else, which is almost as big a letdown as the writing.
Library Journal called the book "spectacular" and gave it a starred review. Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Booklist have also published hosannas. But why should crime fiction or thrillers be held to a different standard than other fiction? Why doesn't the way these books are written matter to enough reviewers?
I kept reading The Intercept out of morbid curiosity, wondering if the book could really be so flawed. Unfortunately, it is.