The Shell Game
Review: Steve Alten's near-future thriller, The Shell Game, is such a ridiculous shambles of a novel that it's hard to take it seriously. It's even harder to objectively review.
Conspiracy theorists, radical left-wingers, and the cultural elite will believe Alten speaks the gospel truth in The Shell Game and need read no further here. Everyone else, regardless of political ideology, will likely find the book an aimless and insipid mess.
The Shell Game takes place, for the most part, in late 2011 and early 2012. John McKuhn (a very thinly disguised John McCain) is President, having been elected over his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (no name substitutions apparently required) in 2008 due to voting machine fraud, vicious personal attack ads, and countless other dirty deeds attributed to the Republican Party. Leaders of that very same party later assassinate McKuhn ensuring that the Vice President, a hard line conservative in the mold of an even more thinly disguised Dick Cheney, assumes office prior to the election in 2012. None of this is important to the story, but Alten includes it (and much, much, much more) as political fact disguised as political fiction in an effort to get his decidedly one-sided point of view across.
The Shell Game reads more like an unfinished outline for a book than a book itself with chapters that seem almost randomly placed. There are a number of intersecting storylines, none of which are credible and none of which make a lot of sense, that seem half sketched out and not entirely completed. The two primary ones are a plot to bankrupt the ruling monarchy of Saudi Arabia, and a plot to detonate a nuclear weapon on American soil. Alten, not so subtly, pins both of these plots on the Republicans, specifically "neo-cons", a term he uses with such contempt that killers of baby seals are model stewards of the planet in comparison.
Alten might be forgiven for writing such an appalling and tasteless novel had he not tried to make his futuristic allegations more believable by beginning each chapter with quotes from government documents (some "secret"), mainstream literature, historical figures, pop culture leaders, even the Bible. The quotes are, of course, taken completely out of context and serve only to justify Alten's unrelenting bashing of the Republican Party in general, and the current Bush administration in particular. The more credible he tries to be, the more incredible (in the strict definition of the word) he becomes.
Regardless of whether one agrees with Alten's politics or not, The Shell Game is a poorly written and plotted book with one-dimensional characters, mindless dialog, and vapid narrative. It is not a thriller in any sense of the word and is noteworthy only because it is likely to be the worst book of the year, if not the entire decade.
Acknowledgment: Blanco & Peace provided a copy of The Shell Game for this review.
Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Tsunami Books (Trade Paperback), April 2006
ISBN-13: 9780976165927; ISBN-10: 0976165929
Location(s) referenced in The Shell Game: Washington DC, Saudi Arabia.
— ♦ —
The Shell Game by Steve Alten
Publisher: Sweetwater Books
Publication Date: January 2008
List Price: $26.95