Plum Island is Nelson DeMille’s first novel featuring NYPD Detective John Corey. After being shot three times, Corey is trying to take it easy in a small town in Long Island. However, a married couple he knows is found shot to death on their patio and the local police chief wants Corey’s help with the investigation. The couple worked at Plum Island, a research facility rumored to be working on germ warfare. There goes the relaxing recovery.
Corey’s a likable character and I enjoy experiencing the book from his point of view. He is experienced and maybe a bit cynical. He also seems completely unprepared for this investigation. Investigating murder is one thing but a case involving biological warfare agents is beyond his training and experience. He is probably more fun to read about than he might be to actually work with or know in real life. If Corey doesn’t like someone, he rarely makes an effort to conceal it. He really doesn’t like Ted Nash, who is part of the investigation, and Nash does not care for Corey, either.
DeMille described scenes well. There is enough detail to set a scene or get a feeling of the location but not too much detail. At one point there is a description of a road with a gentle curve. There are picturesque vineyards on the side of the road with some orchard and cornfields scattered to keep the vineyard view from getting boring. I like that description (I paraphrased it) but I also liked it was a short description and that the paragraph transitioned back to Corey and his inner monologue.
One of my favorite characters was the female police detective assigned to the case, Beth Penrose. I thought DeMille explored what it might be like to a female cop with her tenacious character very well. She resents Corey’s presence at her crime scene at first and even disarmed him at one point. She considers the double murder her first real case, later explaining that she basically had to beg to get this assignment instead of the usual crap jobs. Even a female crime scene investigator makes a sexist joke toward Beth. Adding all these things up, the reader gets the impression that Beth is a person who feels like her coworkers don’t take her seriously because of her gender. And she might be correct.
I like the variation of dialogue DeMille uses in this book. It never got too brainy or too police-jargon-filled to understand. Corey’s snarky remarks never became too unbearable, but that could vary from reader to reader. This novel was written over 20 years ago but doesn’t feel dated, except for the occasional street slang (hopheads stood out to me).
John Corey is featured (working for different agencies) in six other novels including The Lion’s Game (which very well might be my favorite novel by DeMille). The last novel featuring Detective John Corey was Radiant Angel in 2015 but DeMille wrote a short story featuring Corey in 2017, so he might bring the character back.
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