Dan's Reviews > The 500

The 500 by Matthew Quirk
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's review
Jun 20, 2012

liked it

Pass the popcorn, a book that would be better as a movie
Promo material for “The 500” says the novel is now under development as a major motion picture. I’m glad to read that. As written, I think the book would be better as a movie.

Tom Cruise would be a natural to play the part of Michael Ford, except Cruise is now too long in the tooth to play the twenty-something hero.

I see the book being better as a movie because all the fast action, coincidences that are too pat and dialogue that’s too glib would be more plausible, more pleasurable rushing at you on the big screen. Up there on the screen the story might take off. On the page, the narrative feels a little flat, the banter more often than not, tends toward the flip.

The narrative, a story about how Washington power brokers abuse power, too often felt manufactured rather than organic, forced instead of naturally unfolding, constructed by a formula only loosely connected to reality.

Michael Ford is a recent Harvard grad who didn’t have an easy life growing up. Now he’s been hired by the Davies Group, Washington’s most prestigious consulting firm, an enterprise operated more as a secret society, a shadow government run by the world’s most powerful and dangerous men. Soon Ford is ensnarled by a past he can’t outrun, caught in circumstances as perilous as anyone could imagine and relentlessly pursued by people obsessively trying to control the future.

Ford tells his own story. It’s a story too full of too-fortunate coincidences for my taste: For example, it looks at one point that Ford is trapped in an office with no way to escape. But wait, as a kid he worked as a carpenter so he knows how and where to kick and punch his way through drywall.

Later he’s subjected to excruciating torture, enough to force anyone to give up the truth. But wait, just a couple hours ago he happened to take some powerful painkillers. The pain meds help him endure. And then later, it appears his pursuers have him cornered, this time for real. But wait, there’s a new Audi parked at the curb and as Ford suspects, the German automaker has taped a spare ignition key to the back page of the car’s owner’s manual. Off he drives. Neat.

A number of dead bodies end up lying around and when it serves the writer’s purposes the bodies stay dead. But if it’s more convenient, a body can and does come back to life.

All those quick escapes and neat reversals are fine for the movies, especially one that’s edited for quick cuts and limited attention spans. But readers usually are looking for more substance and nuance, a better reason to care about the characters and what happens to them. All that doesn’t mean it’s not a good read, exactly. It’s just that I hoped “The 500” would be better, a story with more depth, more of an emotional core and less occupied with being self-consciously clever.

At one point Michael says he felt that fatigue weighed down his body “like a dentist’s lead blanket.” That’s sort of how I felt sometimes while reading the novel.

[3.5 stars]
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
May 1, 2012 – Finished Reading
June 20, 2012 – Shelved

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message 1: by Peg (new)

Peg He's also too short to play Jack Reacher but he is.

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