cannot imagine anyone reading SAIL, the latest collaboration
between James Patterson and Howard Roughan, and then jumping into a
canvas-and-wind-propelled vessel and getting out of sight of dry
land. The book --- particularly in the first half --- describes
everything that can go wrong on a boat, while throwing greed, sex
and violence into the mix. And exciting? SAIL will move you from
first page to last at light speed.
The plot is simple enough, at least on the surface: a dysfunctional
family takes a sailboat cruise that leaves them in dire straits.
That would be an interesting premise, but it’s the flourishes
that Patterson and Roughan provide that keep things sailing along.
We are introduced, in quick course, to the Dunne family. Katherine
is a 45-year-old heart surgeon at a Manhattan hospital. She is
married to a shark of a defense attorney named Peter Carlyle but
has already buried one husband, who passed away while in the
company of a winsome girlfriend as they sailed on The Family
Dunne, the same boat on which the Dunnes are about to embark
on a two-month extended journey. Katherine has three children ---
Carrie, Mark and Ernie --- who only a mother could love and who
have enough emotional problems to keep Dr. Phil busy for
The idea behind the trip is to pull the family back together --- a
task that at first appears to be on the order of cleaning the
Augean stables --- while Carlyle stays at home and tends the fires.
But because none of the aforementioned Dunnes know anything about
sailing, the ship will be captained and crewed by Jake,
Katherine’s brother-in-law, who is as different from his late
brother as can be. Yet they do, or at least did, have one thing in
common: their feelings for Katherine.
The Family Dunne has barely disappeared over the horizon
before two things occur. The first is that Carlyle is joined at the
hip with Bailey, his girlfriend. Bailey is a law student who is, as
we are told, close enough to meeting the rule that she is
“half his age, plus seven.” The second is that things
start going horribly wrong aboard the boat, leaving them --- most
of them, anyway --- shipwrecked, injured and in dire straits.
Interestingly enough, the catastrophe enables the Dunnes to pull
together as a family and as a team. But is it too late? Will they
ever be found, across a thousand miles of ocean? What will Carlyle
discover while minutely examining Bailey’s legal briefs? And
are the disasters on the boat happening all at once accidents, or
is someone responsible?
You’ll easily guess the answer to the last question, and a
few others, but the fun of SAIL is the journey. Patterson and
Roughan keep lobbing depth charges overboard, beginning about a
third of the way through and continuing practically to the end, so
that for every incident you guess is going to occur, there will be
one or two that you will not see coming. And that, my friends, is
what will keep you glued to the pages.
SAIL was written to be read in an afternoon or an evening, when one
has a block of several hours and needs to be taken elsewhere
without leaving one’s chair. It is escapist literature that
unrelentingly transports the reader from Point A to Point B. Pick
it up and start reading; you’ll sail right through it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011