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AFTERBURN by Colin Harrison

AFTERBURN

By Colin Harrison

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-10205-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The handy cliché alleging that a thriller is so good it transcends its genre has rarely been truer than in the case of this breathtakingly suspenseful meditation on the interwoven ambiguities of life and death. Two terrific set-pieces open the story. The first, a Prologue set in Vietnam in 1972, recounts in nerve-shattering detail the capture, imprisonment, and eventual rescue of fighter pilot Charlie Ravich. Then, we observe Charlie 27 years later in Hong Kong, now the wealthy CEO of a telecommunications company, as he turns his “insider’s” knowledge of the death of an influential Chinese businessman into a multimillion-dollar profit. At that point, the focus shifts to Christina Welles, a college-educated beauty just released from prison, where she served four years for her part in a truck-theft ring masterminded by mafioso Tony Verducci. Shifting with masterly ease among his protagonists, Harrison (Manhattan Nocturne, 1996, etc.) explores Charlie’s desperation to perpetuate his name (his only son dead, his only daughter infertile) as he seeks a surrogate mother; Christina’s wary flight from the avenging Verducci (who, she intuits, suspects she’s double-crossed him, and has arranged her release); and the search for Christina that’s being undertaken by her former lover (and criminal partner), bodybuilder Rick Bocca—who aims to get to her before Tony does. In crisp scenes rendered in trim declarative sentences, Harrison traces his characters— separate paths while simultaneously analyzing their individual obsessions and guilts: Charlie’s belief that the obliteration of his name may be punishment for the death he rained on the Vietnamese; Rick’s compromised Catholic sense of sin; and Christina’s weary surrender to her own “hardness” and amorality. The story’s climax (which includes several graphic torture scenes) and devastating finale brilliantly underscore Harrison’s commanding central irony: that in the midst of life we are in the presence of death. A practically perfect literary thriller with a bitter lingering “afterburn” indeed. (First printing of 100,000; author tour)