The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen
I enjoyed Bollen’s second novel, Orient (reviewed here) very much indeed. It was a chunky thriller set on Long Island in the incomers versus long-term residents mould, so I awaited his third with great anticipation. I was glad too to see that it came in at just under 500 pages, a bit shorter than Orient’s 624, there are novels where the pages just fly by though and Orient was one of them. Could Bollen repeat this success with The Destroyers?
The novel is set largely on the Greek island of Patmos and in the prologue it begins with a tragedy. A bomb goes off at a café near the port. Raina is hoping to meet her holiday lover there to say goodbye before setting off for home on the ferry with her friend Elise. He didn’t turn up: she died in the explosion.
The story is taken up by Ian Bledsoe, who tells of the game he and his best friend Charlie used to play:
When Charlie and I were young, we played a game called Destroyers. We invented it ourselves. Destroyers always began with the same frightening, make-believe premise: a group of gunmen in black balaclavas (number variable) bursts into the room and starts shooting. What do you do?
Ian needs money to turn his life around after he unwittingly got involved with the wrong people while working for an NGO in Panama. Disgraced, he visits his dying father to ask for help – but his father dies on him, for which his stepmother will never forgive him.
I am “also” according to his obituary. “He also had one son from a previous marriage.” […]
“By the way.” she said, grasping the mantel, her back bothering her as it often did, tears in her eyes. She had her own children to worry about. “He left you nothing. Just so you know. It wasn’t my doing. That was his wish.”
Who can Ian turn to? Charlie of course, who is now running a yacht charter company in Patmos. Charlie invites Ian to come for a holiday and off Ian goes.
“You’re planning on staying a while, aren’t you?” he asks.
“I’m here.” Here for as long as he wants me. For the rest of the ride we sit in silence, pretending to admire the water.”
Ian is introduced into Charlie’s laid-back life. He meets Sonny, Charlie’s girl-friend, a former actress with a seven year old daughter. Charlie and Sonny’s relationship can be stormy, but you sense that she does keep him grounded, well sometimes. Charlie is puts Ian up at one of the rental cabins he owns outside the town, and Ian is shocked to find that another person from his past will be next door, he’s not entirely happy at this prospect:
“I think you might have already left college, but Louise dumped me. Like a garbage bag on the curb. It’s great seeing her and all, but I’m not trying that again.”
However, forced into a foursome with Charlie and Sonny, Ian and Louise will find themselves taking up where they left off… Ian gradually relaxes a little, enjoys his friends’ hospitality and tries to make himself indispensable. Charlie eventually brings Ian into his charter company as office manager, but it becomes clear that there is more to Charlie’s success than just renting yachts and holiday lets and secrets will out.
In my headline, I suggested that this thriller has hints of The Night Manager (reviewed here) and The Talented Mr Ripley. Charlie is minor league compared to The Night Manager‘s Richard Roper and Ian is no spy. Ian’s similarities to Highsmith’s Tom Ripley end at being Charlie’s hanger on, he doesn’t take it to the next step, however Charlie’s hedonistic lifestyle does chime a little with Ripley’s target Dickie Greenleaf. There is a feel of both in this novel though, indeed taking the comparisons one step further, Charlie’s business dealings could be seen as ‘Gatsbyish’ with Ian playing Nick (more on Gatsby here) but both being the respective black sheep of their families.
These are the obvious influences that rang out to me reading The Destroyers, which added to the gorgeous Mediterranean location, made for interesting reading. However, it’s impossible for The Destroyers to equal those three great novels, and whilst I enjoyed it a lot, and kept turning the pages, I hoped for slightly more to happen than actually did. It was an ideal summer read though (I read the book in August), and I will look forward to Bollen’s next. (7.5/10)
Source: Publisher – thank you.
Christoper Bollen, The Destroyers, (Scribner, July 2017) Hardback, 496 pages.