Ad exec Siegel (Epitaph, 2001) swings for the fences with this preposterous, compulsively readable story of a casual fling that flings its partners into the lower depths of hell.
Charles Schine usually catches the 8:43 to Penn Station, but one day his daughter Anna’s juvenile diabetes regimen slows him down, and he lands on the 9:05 without his commuter ticket or his money. When an obliging stranger with legs down to here offers to pay for him, it’s lust at first sight, and soon Charles and Lucinda are sharing lunches, cocktails, and conversations about their boring marriages. But their tryst at a run-down hotel is turned into a nightmare by Raul Vasquez, who assaults them just as they’re leaving, robs them at gunpoint, then forces Charles to watch as he assaults Lucinda again for hours on end. By the end of their ordeal, Charles is humbled, unmanned, and far too intimidated to go the police. He’s also (first gaping plothole) all too ready to pay Vasquez whatever he asks, even raiding his daughter’s savings in order to keep his family from finding out what daddy was up to in the city. When Vasquez ups his demands, Charles, evidently oblivious to the unrelated trouble he’s stirring up at his advertising job (second hole), plots a retaliation that will deliver him still more firmly to the forces of darkness. Though every thrust and counterthrust to date has been deliciously predictable, Siegel seems to toss the one-false-move playbook out the window with Charles’s determination to recover the money Vasquez extorted, and from this point on specific implausibilities are swallowed in a trail of roller-coaster sparks that lead, in the end, to the biggest con of all.
Irresistible hokum written with an obvious eye on Hollywood, where producers will have to decide whether to make Charles’s tribulations believable or hope viewers, like lucky readers, will surrender themselves to its spell.