“Book Review: The Apologist”
Reviewed by Joseph Haeger
A taut non-linear thriller with satisfying twists and an array of complex characters
It can be hard to pull off an engaging thriller. A lot of the time, the audience can fall into a pattern of passively reading and simply watching a plot happen.
One way to circumvent this potentiality is to play with the story’s structure, like by presenting it in a non-linear fashion, but even that comes with its own issues. Oftentimes, this runs the risks of muddying the narrative, and if you go too far with it, you can over complicate the plot.
So, when I come across a novel like The Apologist by A.A. Weiss—where it engages the reader from the first chapter to the last and absolutely nails the structure—I’m in awe because it looks so effortless.
Patrick Allred has the best of intentions. He wants to use his English education for good, helping people who need it most. After graduation, he walks into the Peace Corps recruiting office before learning he doesn’t actually have any applicable skills. He pivots to teaching English abroad and is soon Beijing bound. Little does he know he’s actively getting pulled into a twisted web of espionage and Chinese politics.
Then, he suddenly drops off the map.
His disappearance prompts freshman congressmember King to put together an under-the-radar mission led by assassins who don’t want to kill anymore. Two disillusioned hit men team up to locate and retrieve the missing American, ideally without any bloodshed, and this makes us wonder: do these killers have what it takes, or will they revert to their old ways to complete the mission?
The structure of The Apologist is reminiscent of a Christopher Nolan film. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of sorts, where different moments in time are running concurrently and it’s up to us to pull hints from the chapters to build a larger linear timeline in our heads. I love this tactic because it further engages the reader with the mystery of the story, expecting us to participate in a small way.
But even then, you don’t have to piece the timeline together to have a great time. All the characters are written effortlessly as their own individuals. Their dialogue wouldn’t even need to be attributed because through the cadence and language we already know whose voice is speaking. Having these fully formed characters within this fleshed-out setting more than makes up for momentary moments of confusion that typically come with a non-linear timeline.
The story unfolds smoothly, but—without getting into specifics—the end can be slightly underwhelming. If The Apologist had been lacking anywhere else, this would have been disheartening, but because the book as a whole is so strong, the ending doesn’t act as too much of a hindrance on the overall enjoyment of the story.
Throughout the book, we don’t know who to root for. At any moment, any one of the characters could be the bad guy and any could be the good guy. The effect this creates is that we’re kind of rooting for every single one of them at all times. This means regardless of the thread we’re following, we have an emotional investment in that specific part of the story.
This is a rare novel that balances both plot and characters with equal fervor. Had the characters been lesser, the plot would have made up for it; and conversely, if the plot would have been weakened, the characters could have carried me through. In the end, it’s a one-two punch that makes me giddy even thinking about.
The Apologist is a wild ride that always has me on the edge of my seat, and while I never know what’s coming next, it doesn’t matter much, because after just a short while in its pages, I can trust that this author is in control and will take me somewhere I can love.
Publisher: Agency Books (an imprint of Sunbury Press)
Genre: Spy thriller
Print length: 193 pages
Thank you for reading “Book Review: The Apologist” by Joseph Haeger! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.