The Manhattan Project by Paul McNeive
Paul McNeive's new book is an overcooked melange of wooden dialogue, repetition and irrelevant detail
There’s a full cast of thriller characters here: a Japanese criminal mastermind, determined to avenge the atrocities of Hiroshima. A pair of Al-Qaeda types. A Libyan fast-food entrepreneur, trying to make it in NY. And a plucky New York cop falling in love with a beautiful woman (who just happens to be wrapped up in the bioterrorism plan to lace Manhattan’s burgers with E.coli).
The plot is elaborately overexplained, and the action rendered in the sort of high-definition detail that demonstrates all that films do better than novels: car chases, gunfights, and helicopter trips to the White House. When we’re not rushing around, the prose is bloated with repetition, irrelevant detail, and statements of the obvious. Not even a great deal of jumping across time and location, from Manhattan to Tokyo to Afghanistan and back again, can disguise the lack of pace.
The dialogue doesn’t help. People speak in broad platitudes, with wooden predictability. Then their thoughts are strung out in italics, to make sure we don’t miss the signs that they’re angry, thoughtful, happy, or nostalgic. And the signs aren’t very cryptic to begin with: they’re often cartoonish in their clunkiness (everyone’s knees shake when they speak to the President, for instance). The blurb isn’t wrong when it says The Manhattan Project has all the ingredients of an international thriller – it's just a shame it's so overcooked.