Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What we're reading: Three thrillers

I just finished reading a series of three thrillers by author Joseph Finder. I hadn't read anything by him before (and there is a lot from which to choose), so I decided to start with his series about corporate intelligence specialist Nick Heller, since there are so far only three books. People on Goodreads variously call Heller a Jack Bauer / Jack Ryan / Jack Reacher (why are they all named Jack?) oh, or Mitch Flynn (not named Jack!) kind of guy. Some characterize these as "Ludlum light" (though to me he's no Jason Bourne). Finder does follow the protagonist rulebook, established by the writers of all those Jacks (and Mitch, let us not forget):

          Special Forces background
          Troubled childhood
          Authority issues
          Tough guy with a soft spot/heart of gold

The first book, Vanished, is an introduction of the character, and does that well; but the mystery is kind of tame (his brother is missing, which leads to some bigger issues), and fell a little flat for me. It did, however, nicely set up the characters and relationships that would continue into subsequent books (his vulnerable nephew, the woman who would become his right-hand tech researcher) and give a good look into his background (his high-powered financial crook of a father, his brother who seems poised to follow in their father's footsteps), so having concluded that I liked the protagonist more than I liked the story, I decided that was sufficient reason to continue.

The second book, Buried Secrets, was better than the first. An old family friend, a hedge fund billionaire named Marshall Marcus, calls Nick when his daughter goes missing. He refuses to contact the police or the FBI, so Nick is his only hope to get her back. When Nick questions why Marshall doesn't approach the FBI (missing persons being their specialty), Marshall is cagey enough that Nick knows something's up. But when he starts poking around, he discovers there's a lot more to this than a simple kidnap-for-ransom.

This had a more exciting and visceral mystery (although my claustrophobia kicked in big time at some of the descriptions), and I liked how Nick and his background team collaborated to solve seemingly insurmountable problems. But I thought the final explanations for why everything happened were a bit muddled and unclear, so I would have to call this one good, but uneven. Still, since #2 was an improvement, I sallied forth and checked out #3.

The plot of Guilty Minds was more topical for these times: A Supreme Court justice is about to be outed on a salacious gossip website for consorting with a call girl, and his lawyer hires Nick to prove it didn't happen, giving him 48 hours before the story goes public. Then dead bodies start turning up, and things get vastly more complex.

Again, this one was an improvement over the second, which was an improvement over the first; but honestly, none of the books blew me away. There's nothing wrong with them, and much to like, but they don't grab me the way the books of Connelly or Crais do, and I'm much more intrigued by the Jacks than by Nick. But if you're looking for a pretty good read, a classic page-turner with a protagonist whose characteristics are reassuringly familiar, then try the series. And if you don't want to read them all, you get enough explanation at the beginning of each book to take them as stand-alone books, in my opinion.

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