Today, I finished listening to the audiobook version of Andrew Gross’ first solo novel, The Blue Zone. I’m a big fan of the books he co-wrote with James Patterson, especially Lifeguard and Judge and Jury, and I really enjoyed Gross’ latest book, No Way Back. Now I’m working my way through his solo work and decided to start with his bestselling debut thriller, The Blue Zone. I’m happy to report that it’s a gripping tale that surprised me with its biggest twist and kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering how the story would play out.
My only gripe is that in the first few chapters Benjamin Raab is referred to as “Mr. Raab” for what seemed like 100 times. Every time someone addressed this character, especially law enforcement, Gross felt the need to end each sentence of dialogue with the character saying “Mr. Raab.” For example, here are some sentences I made up to illustrate how “Mr. Raab” was used to death in the opening chapters’ dialogue:
“Where were you last night, Mr. Raab?”
“Oh, how interesting, Mr. Raab”
“Why don’t you just tell us the truth, Mr. Raab?”
“How many times do you think I can say ‘Mr. Raab,’ Mr. Raab?”
It drove me out of mind because it was obscenely redundant. When there are two people talking in a scene, it’s OK to mention each character’s name once, but that’s it. Anything more makes for an irritating read. Why not have the characters refer to him as “Ben” once in a while, or, better yet, not address him at all? What made it worse was the audiobook narrator, who was atrocious. Her shrill voice saying “Mr. Raab” made me want to throw my iPhone out the window. Needless to say, don’t listen to the audiobook version of The Blue Zone – go for the print or e-book version instead.
Now that I got that out of my system, let’s get to the good stuff. After getting past the redundant and sometimes superficial dialogue in the beginning of the book, Gross did a terrific job of developing the lead character, Kate. I liked the periodic breaks in the action where she went swimming and reflected on the chaos around her; these scenes, as well as the ones at her job and with her boyfriend, gave the character emotional depth and maturity.
The big twist that took place toward the end of the book was satisfying because I didn’t see it coming and it was believable. It also tested the characters’ limits and, in some cases, revealed true motives. I don’t want to go into further detail because it would spoil it for you.
Take my advice: Despite its initial flaws, The Blue Zone is a taut thriller by a talented author that’s worth the price of admission.
One of the nice features of the audiobook is it included an interview with the author at the end. Below are some highlights from the interview, as well as a synopsis of the book and a couple videos.
Andrew Gross on The Blue Zone
- “At some point, I was waiting for another project from Jim [Patterson]. All of the books originated with his outline. And while I was waiting for maybe a week or two longer than I was comfortable with, I starting noodling an idea out that became the foundation of The Blue Zone. And it was also a very fast process where I worked a fairly extensive outline to it, submitted it to my agent and within, literally, four or five days we had a series of publishers looking at it and bidding on it. So, it was very difficult to turn that down.”
- “It actually had its origins with a dinner party I went to up in West Chester where I met someone who, like the main character, Benjamin Raab, was a jewelry dealer, he was a gold dealer, and absolutely one of the more obnoxious people I ever met. Highly successful. Houses everywhere. His and her Ferraris. Ya know, over the top. And, I guess, about a month later I found out that it had all been a sham and that he was arrested for money laundering, which, at the time, I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable with hearing. But what it struck in me was the chord of how fragile our lives are and how easily not only is it brought down for an individual but for an entire family as well. So, it wasn’t a stretch after that to sort of think of what it would be like if that situation happened in our lives, and, so, that’s basically how The Blue Zone started.”
- “The Witness Protection Program is interesting, but what I found more interesting was the terror of someone who is left behind, in this case, Kate, our protagonist. And, two, I guess the sense of betrayal one feels when you discover that your family, or your father in particular, isn’t the man you’ve always idolized and trusted your whole life, and I think that that is a terror that almost everyone can identify with. And when you have that stripped away, you strip away your entire emotional protection as well, and this is how Kate has to approach things in the book.”
Everything in Kate Raab’s life seems perfect. She has an amazing family, an invigorating job straight out of college, and a boyfriend she adores. Then a phone call changes everything. Her father, a successful businessman, a man she has always trusted and admired, is in trouble with the law. He’s innocent, he insists to his family, but the only way out, is this: his testimony against his accomplices and the immediate placement of his family deep inside the Witness Protection Program. He accepts, and everyone prepares to go into hiding—until one of them suddenly gets cold feet. In a flash, Kate’s perfect life is gone.
Now, a year later, her worst fears have happened. Kate’s father suddenly disappears—into what the WITSEC agency calls the Blue Zone—and someone very important to him is found brutally murdered. As Kate digs into her father’s life, the shocking truth she finds sets in motion a decades-old vendetta. With her family under watch, with the FBI untrustworthy, and her father’s menacing “friends” circling her with increasing intensity, Kate alone must set off on the life and death journey to find her father, and uncover the secrets someone will kill to keep buried.