I really wanted to like this book. I believe I’ve mentioned before how much I looooove spy stories and this one sounded right up my alley. The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen (Viking 2012) is all about a former military intelligence officer/current movie star who is pulled back into action in order to investigate a shady businessman and the possible theft of supposedly decommissioned Russian nuclear warheads. Apparently no other spies in the world could possibly get close to this guy, so they think nobody would suspect a movie star! I mean, that plot sounds like the most ridiculous episode of Chuck ever (and that’s saying something), so I was expecting some good campy fun. Unfortunately, nobody gave author Thomas Caplan the campy memo because he takes the premise way too seriously. That combined with poor writing and slow pacing make this book a real slog to get through.
Now when reading a genre thriller I don’t need genius prose, but I do expect competent writing and a well-paced plot. However, this book violated that #1 elementary school rule: use show-not-tell writing. Everything was explained to death. You know, I’m not an idiot, I can infer and deduce information without having everything spelled out for me. This kind of writing also has the benefit of stopping any story momentum in its tracks. The pace of this story was glacial. The reader doesn’t even meet the main character until a quarter of the way through the book and he doesn’t start actually spying until the mid point of the story. To be fair, I read an e-galley of the manuscript and not the final book, but this story really could have used some judicious structural editing. I mean, we spend the first two chapters with a very minor character whose eventual murder helps facilitate the nuclear warheads. I remember thinking that these two chapters better be damn important to the plot. Nope! All they had to establish was that he was a rich asshole who was pulling out of his part of the deal. You can take care of that in a 2-3 page prologue AT MOST.
Now I MIGHT have been able to overlook writing and pacing issues if the characters had been more interesting. They’re not bad per se (except for the dumb, wishy-washy love interest), but they don’t stand out either. The characters speak very stylized, James Bond-esque dialogue, which would be fine if a) it was wittier and b) the tone of the story wasn’t so serious. Did I mention that this was a story about a movie star who is also a spy?
Ultimately I was disappointed with The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen. Some of that comes from different expectations about how the story was going to go (i.e. FUN), but I think there are issues here that would give fans of straight-forward, serious thrillers pause. I guess I’m just going to have to find something else to fill my spy fix now that Chuck is off the air.