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by Louis Begley

Pub Date: April 7th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-385-53914-2
Publisher: Doubleday

A veteran novelist takes an unfortunate turn with this stilted, contrived thriller.

The stylistic flair and psychological subtlety that Begley brought to his Schmidt novels (About Schmidt, 1996, etc.) is nowhere in evidence here. Instead, this is genre fiction that doesn’t deliver the usual pleasures of the genre. The narrator is Jack Dana, an Ivy Leaguer who's also a Marine war hero and the author of three very popular novels, at least one of which has been optioned by Hollywood for big bucks. His closest living relative is his Uncle Harry, a partner at a prosperous Manhattan law firm, who was estranged from the rest of the family for reasons never quite explained. Harry’s top client is a conservative-extremist Texas tycoon who's been buying elections, cultural legitimacy and government officials. The tycoon decides he no longer wants Harry as his lawyer, and then tragedy strikes. Already a wealthy man, Jack is on the verge of becoming far wealthier, but first he must solve a mystery and avenge a murder. And finish his next novel. And fall in love with Harry’s protégé, a younger partner named Kerry, with whom he embarks on a whirlwind courtship though both of them are ostensibly in mourning. Jack also has a best friend from college who now conveniently works for the CIA and thus has intelligence and weaponry at his disposal. While Kerry and Jack are coming to terms with Harry’s fate, they are pitching woo (as the novel might have it) in deliriously silly fashion: “Could we have a dinner plus a sleepover?” Kerry asks Jack in an email. His reaction: “A wave of such happiness overcame me that I let out a whoop.” Jack also wonders whether the strange figure stalking him might have something to do with Harry but concludes, “Most of the world’s population are weirdos.”

Perhaps the author had some fun with this, but the result isn’t likely to engage fans of either Begley or thrillers.