Within the last year or so, I’ve discovered a fondness for military and espionage thrillers, i.e., books that feature highly trained specialists utilizing their deadly skills against nefarious villains, with conspiracies and plot twists a-plenty.
As such, I was looking forward to Jack Carr’s The Terminal List, which seemed to have everything you could want from such a book: A Navy SEAL goes rogue to avenge his teammates and family, only to find himself in the middle of a cover-up that implicates the highest levels of the American government. That Carr was a former SEAL sniper himself promised to lend the novel an extra layer of verisimilitude.
But I couldn’t finish it. Morally repugnant and poorly written, The Terminal List reads like revenge porn for the far right crowd. It’s filled with ham-fisted liberal caricatures (e.g., the spineless admiral trying to make the Navy more diverse, the loveless political power couple who might as well be named “Clinton,” the imam whose claims of tolerance are just a cover), all of whom meet grisly ends, and wraps the protagonist’s increasingly sadistic actions in self-righteous smugness.
The best novels in this genre contain some measure of moral ambiguity or pathos, which offsets their characters’ violence and makes it more than just blood-soaked fantasy. However, I could find no such ambiguity in The Terminal List. Carr wants you to relish in the graphic details of every murder his “hero” commits (be it headshot, beheading, or disembowelment) and celebrate his descent into inhumane amorality. In the end, it was just too much. It’s been a long time since I’ve disliked a novel as much as this one.