Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Review Club: Trust Me by Jeff Abbott

(This is the August entry in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For the complete list, click the icon at the end of this review.)

Sometimes, summer blockbusters don’t arrive in theaters. Sometimes, they show up at your bookstore. Jeff Abbott’s Trust Me is a summer blockbuster worthy of the name.

Like many a thriller, Trust Me starts with the bad guys. There are two men, one old and one dressed in a gray suit. They are in a park in London and they are discussing how many terrorists attacks they could unleash with the fifty million dollars the old man, a Middle Eastern prince, is giving to the man in the gray suit. Unbeknownst to them, a third party is there, a lady named Jane, listening in. Armed with this new knowledge, she telephones someone and says, “We start tonight. Rock and roll.”

Rock and roll is certainly one way of describing the intense action of the rest of the book. At the center of all this rocking and rolling is Luke Dantry, a twenty-four-year-old University of Texas graduate student. He’s a psychology major and has been helping his step-father—Henry Shawcross, his only living relative after his parents died in two separate accidents—conduct research into extremists groups on the Internet. Specifically, they want to find the radical folks online who may be the next Timothy McVeigh, people who will take their ranting to the next level. After a brief visit by Henry in which Luke delivers the latest reports on these online nut cases, Luke takes his step-father to the airport. On the way back to his car, Luke finds a gun in his ribs. Now, he’s kidnapped.

A desperate man, Eric, tells him to drive to Houston. Bit by bit, Luke learns that he is to be the ransom for Eric’s girlfriend. Chained to a bed in a cabin in the middle of the east Texas woods, Luke has to escape and stay out of the hands of the bad guys as well as the police who want him in connection with the murder of a homeless man, a man Eric shot and Luke witnessed.

The chase is on. From Houston to Chicago to New York to Paris, Luke has to stay one step ahead of the authorities and the members of the mysterious Night Road, the group of extremists whose sole desire is to inflict damage upon America. They’ve already started, too. An explosion near Houston is linked to other acts of terror across the country. Luke knows they are tied together and he must figure out a way to stop it while simultaneously clear his name.

As a writer, the structure of Abbott’s book was fantastic. In multiple POVs, we readers are privy to everything. We know the identity of the hired guns sent to the cabin to fetch Luke. We know what they’re thinking and what they don’t know. Later on in the novel, we know things Luke has to find out for himself. I usually write my stories with a limited POV, allowing the mysterious things to remain unknown until the main character learns about them at the same time as the reader. Abbott’s approach ups the intensity and tension. We know who is coming for Luke, even if he doesn’t. Armed with our omniscient viewpoint, we know the hired killers are bad, bad people and Luke best get out of whatever situation he’s in.

Luke is a regular guy. He’s not Jack Bauer or James Bond or Jason Bourne and he doesn’t have a name that starts with “J.” Abbott allows Luke’s logical brain to run through each scenario, putting together plans and contingencies, trying to find a way out of the nightmare in which he finds himself. It’s that normalness, that sense of This-Can’t-Be-Happening-To-Me, that grounds Trust Me. In the world of the fantastic, you get the sense that it could possible happen, even to you.

Luke’s progress throughout the book, from the young, innocent university student to what he becomes in the end, is evenly paced and believable. It’s not like, say, Catwoman in the 1992 movie “Batman Returns,” where one day she’s a secretary and the next she knows how to fight. Luke’s learns the hard way, usually with great pain and suffering. He’s put through the ringer and he’s damaged.

The pace of Trust Me is pretty relentless, an essential component in a thriller. The number one thing that propels the prose of the story is Abbott’s use of “Pulp Words.” You know what I’m talking about: one character “slithers” through mud; another has thoughts that “boom” in his head. Action words, words designed to punch the reader in the face at the same time describe non-stop action. I found myself smiling throughout the entire book as I would guess what sentence came next, the words I’d have chosen, and the better words Abbott chose.

A word about the audiobook. I listened to this story and the reader, Luke Daniels, did a great job of doing the different voices. The thing about audio books is that if the reader is good, the attributions (he said; she said) are not necessary. You can hear the difference. Part of the way through the book, a character says something. On the page, it’s just dialogue and you don’t know who said it. Abbott intended it this way. On the audio, however, the reader has to use the voice of the character. Thus, as an audio listener, when the identity of said character is revealed late in the novel, I already knew who it was. That’s my only con about audio books.

Trust Me is the first book I’ve read by Jeff Abbott. I’m a regular reader of his blog and have begun to put into place some of the writing habits he blogs about in his “Organized Writer” posts. Without a doubt, I’ll be reading more Abbott books. If you’ve got a hankering for a thrill-a-minute rush equal to or better than most things in the theaters this summer, Trust Me is it.

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pattinase (abbott) said...

Have yet to sample him either. I Have trouble with audio books because I am so used to my own voice. My son loves them though.

Anonymous said...

I just completed the 4 Jordan Poteet books, starting with Do Unto Others. I enjoyed them all. I read for characters and so enjoyed the small town charm of the characters.