x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Book review: Christopher Bollen's The Destroyers

Greece is hot literary stuff right now - a surface set-up of pleasure and wealth alongside the suffering and trauma only a brief boat ride away across the Aegean

IanBledsoe arrives in Patmos looking for a lifeline. From the island of Manhattan to one in the Aegean Sea, he has made a rather ill-thought-through dash from the side of his estranged father’s deathbed (via a cash machine in order to take advantage one last time of the family’s back account), and escaped to Greece and the hospitality of an old school friend.

Charlie to his friends, Charalambos Konstantinou to his staff, and scion of his Cypriot father’s construction empire to the rest of the world, Ian’s bestie is one of the privileged one per cent. The Konstantinou fortune is a “bonfire” compared to the “votive candle” that is Ian’s father’s baby food business – in itself far from insubstantial. The two men have always considered themselves “more than brothers”. It is the combination, therefore, of the prospect of a friendly ear and Charlie’s apparently bottomless funds that has Ian flying halfway around the world when he should be burying his father.

He arrives on Patmos to find himself thrust into an entourage reminiscent of that surrounding Dickie Roper in The Night Manager: Charlie’s girlfriend Sonny, an ex-actress, and her 7-year-old daughter Duck; Miles, with whom Charlie spent his summers on the island back when they were kids, a posh Brit with a few of his own skeletons in the closet and a crush on Sonny; Charlie’s old college friend and Ian’s one-time flame, Louise, more recently turned Sonny’s confidant; Charlie’s cousin Rasym, and his boyfriend Adrian; not to mention various other loyal employees.

To begin with it is idyllic. There are days lounging on yachts, swimming in the ocean, sunbathing on beautiful beaches and nights spent feasting like kings. But something rotten lurks beneath the surface. Soon Charlie – who has “a knack for making bad choices” – disappears, and Ian finds himself inadvertently drawn into a web of lies and betrayal. Is he being a good friend, or is he only out to save his own skin? All “stuck here on Charlie’s generosity”, the situation soon transforms into “a tiny anthill […] everyone crawling on top of each other”.

Genuine literary thrillers, those that are well written and cleverly plotted, but also gripping enough to earn the praise of “page-turner”, are a rare breed. The Destroyers is Bollen’s second foray into the genre – the success of his previous novel Orient, a murder mystery set in a small town on Long Island that saw NYC’s bohemian artists clashing with locals, could have been a one-off, but The Destroyers firmly establishes his place in this particular canon, and positions him as a more than worthy successor to Patricia Highsmith. Although Orient won him comparisons to the famous psychological thriller writer, The Destroyers is far more Highsmithian fare, resonating with echoes of The Talented Mr Ripley and Highsmith’s not so well known but no less thrilling Greece-set The Two Faces of January.

It is a country that is hot literary stuff right now. This year has already seen the publication of Katie Kitamura’s A Separation, a Greek fishing village-set, Yorgos Lanthimos-inspired psychological meditation on marriage; and next month sees the publication of Laurence Osborne’s Hydra-set thriller, Beautiful Animals. The unadorned “hard and brittle” beauty of the country’s uniquely elemental landscape – “So much simpler than Italy,” Louise muses. “Like nature hasn’t overdecorated. The colours are honest, know what I mean?” – and the surface set-up of pleasure and wealth, sit in stark contrast to the darkness hidden within each of these narratives, and – in Bollen and Osborne’s stories – the suffering and trauma only a brief boat ride away across the Aegean. The hopelessness of the refugees washing up on Patmos’s stunning shores should put Ian and Charlie’s problems into perspective, but Bollen delights in his characters egocentric, murky morals. The real problem is the “human flotsam washing up on August nights” in the clubs and bars. “I test out new words in my mind,” Ian thinks, the old moniker “Eurotrash” no longer sufficient. “Humantrash. Caucasiangarbage. Globalcapitalistrefuse.”

The perfect beach read, although sophisticated enough to savour long beyond the vacation season too, The Destroyers makes for gloriously suspenseful and thrilling reading.