The Maze Is Amazing - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Maze Is Amazing
by

The Maze: A John Corey Novel
By Nelson DeMille
(Scribner, 432 pages, $30)

If you read Nelson DeMille’s newest John Corey thriller, The Maze, right after Andrew Klavan’s A Strange Habit of Mind as I just did, you might think tough-guy protagonists who appreciate beautiful women — and vice versa — are back in literary style. But being a politically incorrect novelist myself, I can state that the woke young dragons at the publishing gate are fiercer, if softer, than ever. Fortunately, DeMille, like Klavan, is a bestselling old hand — as well as a Vietnam veteran — who can tell the book-world gatekeepers to pound sand. And he did precisely that in The Maze.

When his editor demanded less triggering, DeMille changed publishing branches (from Simon & Schuster to Scribner) and got himself a new editor. “I had a lot of editorial problems on this book,” he said on Klavan’s podcast show. “Because of the sensible sexism of John Corey, the whole idea of an alpha male … I had to get another editor and I actually switched publishers.”

The author’s steadfastness is our reward because The Maze is one of DeMille’s best, and that’s as good as fiction gets. It’s also something of a return to Earth for his hero, John Corey, who ended up saving Manhattan from a Russian nuke in his previous, seventh, adventure, Radiant Angel. In fact, The Maze is a sort of sequel to the first bestselling John Corey mystery, the phenomenal Plum Island, though you don’t need to read that novel to fully enjoy this one.

The book finds ex–NYPD homicide cop and ex–federal intelligence agent Corey unemployed and lounging at his uncle’s Long Island lake house, yet also marked for death by Islamic terrorists and Russian spies seeking revenge for his past damage to them. Two detectives from Plum Island show up individually, one of them Corey’s sexy former lover Beth Penrose. Both urge him to join a certain large but shady private-eye firm, and Beth’s inducement comes with herself attached. So even before getting to the main mystery, Corey tries to figure out why they want him in that organization. He acquiesces and plunges into a deeper enigma involving police corruption, political blackmail, and eight murdered prostitutes on Fire Island.

No other author blends suspense, humor, and eroticism like DeMille, and all three are in top form here. As the danger increases, the jokes fly in Corey’s first-person narration. All of them are funny, and some of them so overtly, traditionally sexist that you laugh just to see them, especially since no Hollywoke movie or TV show in the last 20 years would dare utter them.

A delectable femme fatale spices up the excitement and intrigue. The beauteous Amy Lang works for the private detective company that fellow employee Corey is investigating. As she manifestly warms to him, neither Corey nor the reader can tell whether she is seeking his protection, is trying to vet him, or just plain fancies him. A normal man’s natural instinct would be to trust her sexual attraction to him, which makes Corey’s hesitation believably frustrating.

But DeMille is also a master of menace. His male suspects — the firm owner and his three other detectives — are richly realistic, and John Corey proves a satisfying match for them. At one point, he confronts a hostile colleague who may be a murderer: “Chip, I’ve killed more men than you’ve fired bullets at paper targets. And I killed them for less reason than you’re giving me now. Don’t threaten me.”

The ostensible good guys are just as marvelously developed, chief among them Corey’s girlfriend with strings, Beth. Neither Corey nor we know whether she wants him more as a lover or as her unofficial investigator, which adds to the intrigue. In an oddly romantic scene, the two go swimming in the lake, then Beth holds Corey’s head underwater. He knows he can break free of her grip anytime, but he holds his breath and lets the act play out. When she finally lets him come up for air, she says: “That’s for leaving me. Don’t do it again.”

Technically and interestingly describing a location requires more effort than most readers know. In fact, they’re not supposed to know, only absorb. But a fellow writer can appreciate just how well DeMille accomplishes this objective. It is of particular value in a heist story, which the book becomes near the end, and indispensable in one of the most original action climaxes ever. It takes place in a garden maze at night, where any wrong step by Corey could be his last.

The scene — in fact, the whole book — would make for an unforgettable motion picture. But Hollywoke types will never adapt it, for the same reasons DeMille’s former editor and publisher resisted printing it — political incorrectness. They would make Bros 2 before The Maze. Thankfully, they’re no longer the only movie game in town. In fact, one smart, independent film company is now developing a project with great Hollywoke outcast Andrew Klavan. DeMille and others will be right behind him, to the welcome of crowds. And eventually the PC dragons at the gate will merely squeal rather than roar.

Looking for an endearing holiday gift book? Try my romantic Christmas ghost story, The Christmas Spirit, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine bookstores.

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