In an attempt to join the lofty heights of ‘Spy Fiction’ idols Ian Fleming (James Bond), Charles McCarry (Paul Christopher), John le Carré, Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, Thomas Caplan and his Movie Star Spy, Ty Hunter, aim for the sun, but like Icarus he rapidly falls.
The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen: A Novel opens with a home invasion in one of rural Kansas City’s wealthiest homes belonging to one of the wealthiest men in the world. But this is no ordinary home invasion nor home invader.
The first approximately 40 pages develops a sense of place, introduces action and excellent character development, which is done so well you’ll be close to adding these characters to your Christmas card list, but, sadly, it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story except to introduce a minor character that the story could have done without and a freighter that you will not get to know beyond the fact it carries an elicit cargo.
It does serve as an entry for the longest preface in history.
The real story involves Ty Hunter, the worlds biggest movie star who is recruited by none other than the President of the United States to investigate the possible disappearance of a nuclear missile in the decommissioning of a post Soviet Missile base.
The suspected thief of these nuclear warheads is yet another of the world’s wealthiest men, Ian Santal. Santal made a name for himself, firstly, as a man of science as a professor at England’s Cambridge University. After his academic acclaim, he turned his hand to the stock market and made billions. Now, in his third incarnation, he is an international man of mystery, and broker of illicit nuclear devices.
Another suspect is Phillip Frost, an M.I.T. Grad who decided to join Santal’s financial firm out of college and who until just recently was on the U.N. Team certifying nuclear devices as decommissioned. This unlikely and slightly fantastical pair of villains would have made Fleming blush, although clearly Caplan was paying homage to Fleming’s Thunderball (Santal owns, and a good deal of the action takes place on a super high tech yacht). Caplan even references the James Bond movies in the form of a supporting character who supplies our hero with high tech gadgets, but he even fails here as well, mistaking ‘M’ for ‘Q’. The reader would, I think, expect a spy novelist to know this.
The first 200 pages of the novel are filled with stops and starts and a meandering plot that had me hard pressed to read a whole chapter every night, and tempted me to put the novel away and not finish it. But, after these 200 pages which seemed more like 600, the story takes off. Further, the first part of the novel will make it apparent that Caplan is the master of the run-on sentence. Sentences that will run half a page encompassing entire paragraphs. I wondered if the editors gave him a certain allowance of commas and he decided to use them all up here.
The protagonist, Ty Hunter, sounds a worthy successor to James Bond. He is part Bond, and part Jason Bourne. He is the worlds number one box office attraction with good looks to eclipse all other Hollywood pretty boys. And his cover, once he is recruited by none other than the President, is a good one, but the character fails on many fronts.
Having been sent out in the world to find the missing nukes, the first thing Hunter does is stop off to have lunch with his mother. Then, when the action and the story start to play about the half way point, Hunter’s attempt at Bond-style one-liners does not come off as sophisticated, but as sophomoric.
Still, you get a glimpse of an interesting read from here to the end, and you can see it was a marvelous idea, but just doesn’t quite live up to the author’s goals.
The Spy Who Jumped Off The Screen has an Introduction by Bill Clinton, who was a classmate of the author at Georgetown back in the early ‘60s. In the intro the president does praise the novel for its display of the privileged life style and he does mention the all too real threat of nukes falling into the wrong hand but, fortunately, eschews any literary criticism.
Caplan is the author of three previous novels that were more in line with the historical thriller/epic genre as well as the world of high finance, and the privileged lives of other American characters. As promising a character as Ty Hunter is, Caplan would be better served not exploring the spy game in the future.