W.E.B. Griffin’s “The Hostage”, published in 2006, is another thriller that’s probably especially attractive to men, in this case because of all the technical specifics of aircraft and military hardware provided by someone who obviously knows what he’s talking about. The intricate plot ranges from money laundering in South America to profiteering in the oil-for-food program following the Iraq war and was entertaining enough to make the book number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
The hero of the story is a character who was apparently introduced in previous books, Major Carlos G. Castillo, a.k.a. Karl W. Gossinger. And here’s where I have a small problem with the book, bestseller or not. Never mind the wildly improbable conjunction of circumstances that led to the dual identity of Castillo as a descendant of both Austrian landed gentry and Hispanic Texas oil barons; I’m a firm believer in creating interesting characters by hook or by crook. But once the writer has imagined a character with such intriguing possibilities, he has to make him convincing. Castillo is able to enlighten his comrades about some aspects of European history (that anyone who payed attention in high school should have known) and demonstrates knowledge of German and Spanish. He even knows Hungarian, taught to him by an aunt who seems to have popped up for that purpose. But nothing about his manner of speaking or thinking fits the exotic background.
The story is told largely from Castillo’s point of view, and everything about his personality and the way he expresses himself is thoroughly American. Yes, he moved to Texas at the age of twelve (the elderly aunt must have strapped the rambunctious boy into a chair to make him sit still long enough to learn Hungarian, a language unrelated to any other he might have known), but without any distinction in personality between Castillo and any other larger-than-life American thriller hero, the bits of knowledge and family connections don’t become an integral part of the story. Ideally, I would have hoped for a more unique personality to go along with the unique history.