Character is key in this deliciously edgy thriller, screenwriter Pyne’s (The Manchurian Candidate) first novel.
A snapshot: Two 14-year-olds in Santa Barbara, Calif. Jack Baylor, a total innocent, is desperate for the approval of menacing Tory Geller. Somehow, he gets it. Six years later, they’re surfing together. When a kid grabs his wave, Tory goes ballistic, beating him to a pulp but also (accidentally) blinding Jack in one eye. Fast-forward 15 years. Jack, Los Angeles actor and inveterate bed-hopper, has just had sex with Hannah, Tory’s trust-fund wife, ended their affair and is relaxing at a Mojave Desert motel. Let the games begin. A beautiful woman called Mona walks into the bar. Jack figures her for his next conquest. They’re not alone. There’s a runaway teen (Rachel); some Marines; and three middle-aged women consoling themselves with margaritas. None of them are wallpaper; all will be used in important ways, evidence of the author’s sweet economy. Back to Jack, for this is his story. He has bedded Mona, even been moved by her vulnerability, until he learns she has two kids. Time to run. He sneaks away caddishly; soon after, Tory happens upon Mona and the kids outside Jack’s room. Jack, on a back road, is ambushed by an army of cops. Mona and the kids are missing, presumed dead, and Jack’s motel room is drenched in blood. It would be wrong to reveal much more, but the surprises come fast and furious: They include Jack’s breakout from jail, his unwanted company (Rachel again) and their trip to a border town. Over them looms the avenging shadow of Tory, armed and dangerous. What went down in Room 203? That’s part of the suspense, but the biggest part is waiting to see if Jack, with Rachel as his improbable mentor, will finally become a stand-up guy, taking responsibility for his actions, running no more.
With dialogue that sings and action that sizzles, this is a prime candidate for the big screen.