Thursday, 6 January 2022

Plum Island (John Corey #1)

AuthorNelson Demille
eBook Publisher: Sphere
eBook Date: September 2008
First Published: 1997
Pages: 574

I've read two books by Nelson DeMille, and both of them have been superb reads. A few years ago I read Up Country, about a former Army Criminal Investigator by the name of Paul Brenner, who is asked to visit Vietnam in order to look into a 30 year old murder. The main character is revisiting his former posting and a lot of the book covered him retracing his steps. It didn't sound like something I would like as the Vietname War is not a conflict I'm very familair with or particularly intersted in, but the sheer power of the writing drew me in and kept me enthralled throughout.

With that pleasant reading experience in mind, I decided to finally take a chance on another novel by Demille. I was in the mood for a good book by an American modern adventure author along the lines of a Clive Cussler, or a Tom Clancy, and I was really surpised and dissapointed that neither of these two were in stock on the shelves of a number of my local Charity shops here in the UK - but I did finally spot a pristine copy of Plum Island for a very reasonable £1, so nabbed it quickly and abandoned the boring book I'd been wading through to immediately start it. 

Nelson Demille was born in 1943 in the city of New York and soon moved out to Long Island. After a stint in the US Army during the late sixties in the aforementioned Vietnam War - where he was awarded the Air Medal, Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and Combat Infantryman Badge - he returned to education in order to earn a degree in Political Science and History. He had a string of jobs, but freely admits they "were so boring, I missed Vietnam." His first major novel under his real name was called By the Rivers of Babylon, published in 1978. Before this he had written under a few pen names, particularly as the author of the Ryker series from Leisure Books.

I discovered that by sheer luck, with Plum Island, I'd picked up the first novel in the John Corey series by DeMille. Corey is a New York detective, who, at the start of this opening book is recovering from the effects of several gunshot wounds received during the line of duty. He is recuperating in his uncle's waterfront house in North Fork on Long Island. He is approached one evening by the friendly local Sheriff to ask for assistance with a serious crime - one that is not much experienced in the local area. A murder of a young couple in thier backyard - shot through the head at close range. Corey's city homicide experience will come in handy for the local police force. Plus he has a connection with the victims, they are among only a few friends that he has made since he arrived in North Fork.

It soon becomes clear that there is more to the murder than a simple robbery, the County Police are also involved, as are the FBI and the Department of Agriculture. The victims, Tom and Judy Gordon, are employees on the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a facility many people have over the years suspected is a secret government location responsible for carrying out biologic warfare experiments. Theories immediately surface among the group that the Gordon's may have been murdered for their involvement in potential deals involving the provision of samples of deadly material. This material  could even now be being prepared to release into the population of Long Island or mainland America.

DeMille's main protagonist, John Corey, is fabulous. The book is told in the first person narrative, and so we get to know him intimately. He is a good detective, full of know-how and experience, but also flawed and somewhat annoying to work with due to his constant wise-ass comments and comebacks. He makes instant judgements of people and never holds back, much to the annoynace of his colleagues and seniors. Despite this, he is funny and charming at times. Some of his lines really are quite funny, and will make you chuckle out loud (I don't think any other character has ever made me chuckle this much - apart from some of Charles Dickens perhaps).

The strength of Plum Island lies in the writing. The characters are wonderfully real and rounded. There are numerous ways that a writer can achieve this feat, but I feel much of this comes from the dialouge in this story - it is superb, I haven't been this impressed for a long time with how real the characters in a novel sounded. Despite the length of the book, and how technical some of the subject matter and scenes were, the authors writing lets you sail effortlessy through, such a wonderful experience.

DeMille delivers great characters, John Corey, county detective Beth Penrose and other supporting cast really come to life on the pages. Their motives and their reactions to each other feel so grounded. This is one of those books were when a character meets a grisly end I was genuinely pissed off - I'd liked them to the point where their loss emotionally effected me. It's incredibly rare for a writer to move me in that way, but he does it with Plum Island.

It goes without saying that I'm going to recommend you read Plum Island. It is a great book. Will I read more of the series? You bet! I'm thoroughly invested with the character of Corey and need more. Nelson DeMille has hit a homerun with this one and I already have the next couple of paperbacks sitting next to me ready to pick up where he left off. Do youself a favour and read it.

Plum Island is freely available in eBook format from all good retailers.

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