I’ve read a few books by Nelson DeMille before. My favorite is Cathedral, which I really wish I had thought to reread around St. Patrick’s Day, because it’s about the IRA taking over St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC on St. Patrick’s Day, but I forgot. Another is Nightfall, which centers around TWA Flight 800, which crashed into the Atlantic off the coast of Long Island in 1996 (I remember hearing a lot about it on TV when I was a kid). Nightfall is another one that centers around John Corey, but Plum Island is the first in the John Corey series.
I’ve actually been interested in reading Plum Island for a lot longer than I’ve owned it, ever since I saw a copy on my dad’s nightstand many years ago and asked what it was about. I grew up on Long Island, which is where much of the novel takes place (and, indeed, most of DeMille’s novels take place, since he also grew up there), and Plum Island is off our eastern shore. It’s the site of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and is off-limits to the public, and I’d never heard about it until my dad told me about the book.
Fast forward about 10-12 years, and my dad and stepmom saw Nelson DeMille speak at a police benefit, and got a (signed!) copy of Plum Island for me. I was so excited to read it, but I was slightly disappointed—more on that later, though.
Plum Island novel begins with John Corey, an NYPD detective, recuperating at his uncle’s waterfront house in Mattituck on the North Shore of Long Island, having been wounded in the line of duty several months before. The local police chief and a good friend of Corey’s asks for his help in a double murder investigation: the murder of Tom and Judy Gordon, an attractive couple and friends of Corey’s, who worked on Plum Island, which has long been rumored to be a biological warfare center.
Now, Corey is forced to contemplate the unthinkable: could Tom and Judy Gordon have been selling biological warfare secrets to terrorists? Or are their murders unrelated to their work? Detective John Corey doesn’t know, but he is determined to find out—despite roadblocks like the FBI, CIA, and an infuriating but beautiful detective from Suffolk County, Elizabeth Penrose.
Like I said earlier, this is not the first book I’ve read by Nelson DeMille. I’m glad, too, because if it had been my first, I probably wouldn’t have read anything else by him. The story was intriguing and definitely had some good twists and turns in there, but it probably could have been about 300 pages shorter (my copy was 687) because quite a bit of it was unnecessary trips into Corey’s extremely male brain—lots of crude side thoughts about sex, boobs, you name it. Not that I mind that, really (I’m not going to go off on a crusade about how he shouldn’t be objectifying women, if that’s what you’re thinking), but it was seriously excessive. After the first 200 pages I kept thinking, “Okay, I get it, you’re a dirtbag. Now please solve this murder so I can finish this book and get on with my life.”
There were a few little quirks with the writing that sometimes bothered me, but they’re not quite solid enough in my head to really complain about—some word choice things, some grammatical things, but nothing that made me want to throw the book out the window or anything.
All in all, it was pretty decent but I wish it had been shorter. It’s probably not going to win any awards and is definitely not going to be a favorite, but I might revisit it someday if I have nothing better to read. I’d say, though, if you’re going to go for a Nelson DeMille, go for Cathedral.by