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Spotlight on: Joseph Finder

Books Reviewed:
Company Man by Joseph Finder
Killer Instinct by Joseph Finder

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

Killer Instinct by Joseph Finder Joseph Finder, Killer Instinct

After getting in a car accident (the fool was on his cell phone), Jason Steadman, a thirty-year-old salesman for Entronics at a turning point in his career, meets and befriends tow-truck driver Kurt Semko based on the one topic that two strangers in Massachusetts can always talk about: the Boston Red Sox. (They are the great New England equalizer; no matter who you are or what you do for a living, the Red Sox are the most common denominator across the region.)

Jason asks Kurt, a dishonorably discharged ex–Special Forces Army veteran with a mean pitching arm, to join Entronics's softball team, and eventually helps Kurt land a much better job in the company's Corporate Security department. Things soon start going surprisingly well for Jason as his competitors for a promotion have uncharacteristically bad luck -- vital for Jason since he doesn't seem to have that "killer instinct" and Entronics is in the midst of a merger, searching for redundancies and "deadwood." It takes him just slightly longer than us to figure out where this new windfall is coming from.

After the third-person distancing in Company Man, author Joseph Finder (rhymes with cinder) returns to the first-person immediacy that made Paranoia such a gripping read and catapulted the author onto the bestseller lists. He has also tightened his storytelling, bringing Killer Instinct in right at 400 pages. A Boston native, Finder really takes advantage of the Massachusetts setting. He understands the relationships among the towns and cities in the Boston and MetroWest areas of the state, giving the Framingham and Worcester areas special attention (and it's about time!). Residents of central Massachusetts (and I say this as one) will really enjoy seeing their area finally get some literary attention. Finder obviously knows his stuff. (He also inserts some Old Hollywood references -- and one truly jaw-dropping surprise -- that I really appreciated.)

Jason is an engaging narrator/protagonist and I found it easy to identify with him (if not his somewhat Macbeth-ian relationship with his wife). My only complaints with Killer Instinct concern Kurt's character. I never quite got behind him as a real person. Finder offers up lots of wonderful character details, but they don't all fit together into a whole. I really like his solid grasp of military intelligence information (Finder has an intelligence background, and it's fascinating to watch him explore its criminal possibilities), and his sense of violence just barely contained under the surface, but we never learn much about his history or family or any of the other things that show his relationship to the rest of the world. Also, he tosses threats around for far longer than I found believable for someone so focused on action.

In a conversation with author Malcolm Gladwell that was distributed on a CD with the Advance Reader's Copies of Killer Instinct, Finder states, "I always assume that there is something else going on ... something else that's about to distract [the reader] ... and I sort of want to say, 'Oh, no, you don't!'" "Oh, no, you don't" is right! Finder succeeded at grabbing my attention from the first sentence. Once I started the book, I was hard-pressed to find anything I wanted to do more (that didn't involve my family) than simply keep reading. I was taking every free moment (which are fewer and farther between lately) to get further along in the story.

Finder's skill at constructing a gripping narrative is unsurpassed. He is the only mainstream thriller writer I have read in ages whose plots aren't utterly laughable. He writes with insight and intelligence yet remains completely accessible. It was too easy to picture the events in Killer Instinct taking place in the offices where I spent many years of my life, observing behaviors much like those in the book, but even people who have never set foot in an office environment will be immediately drawn in to Finder's world.

Company Man by Joseph Finder Joseph Finder, Company Man

Nick Conover, CEO of Stratton Industries, respected manufacturer of American-made office furniture, is not a popular man in town. Stratton was the main source of employment in Fenwick until price undercuts from competitors in China necessitated laying off half the work force. (The Boston company that owns Stratton is breathing down Nick's neck to move the factory overseas.) Nearly everyone in town was affected -- either laid off or knowing someone who was -- so when someone starts breaking into Nick's home and painting NO HIDING PLACE on the wall, the suspects are legion.

Events are turned up a few notches when the family dog is killed; then, one night, in a fit of family protection, Nick shoots a prowler on the grounds. But, instead of calling the police, he phones Stratton's director of security, ex-cop Eddie Rinaldi, who quickly arrives, cleans the body of evidence, and throws it in a city dumpster. (This plot hole is Company Man's main flaw, but the book could not exist without it.)

Of course, a body in a dumpster cannot forever go unnoticed. Detective Audrey Rhimes discovers a connection and the chase is on to arrest Nick for murder -- all they need is proof. In addition to work and legal stressors, Nick's family is in turmoil since the death of his wife. His teenage son, Lucas, is especially troubled (and makes me question my own ability to parent a teen). This, combined with a questionable romantic dalliance gives Nick some very full days.

Company Man is a solid suspenser from Joseph Finder, the author of High Crimes (the source of the Morgan Freeman / Ashley Judd film) and the surprise bestseller Paranoia. Finder has been doing this for some time and he knows how to put a story together (even if it is a little on the long side, clocking in at over 500 pages). Finder's writing style mixes intelligence with simplicity of language that does not talk down to the reader. He keeps this monster moving with short chapters and characters that are unpredictable real people, even though they sometimes begin as personality quirks (like the clingy female who has Aimee Mann and Alanis Morissette CDs on repeat), only developing later on. The best-drawn are Nick, who is not a collection of nobel intentions like many protagonists, and Audrey, a black woman struggling to make it on the police force and who may have unintentional influences on her objectivity. Nevertheless, Company Man keeps the surprises coming at a steady pace, allowing for an immersive experience, something else that is rarely found in a mainstream crime thriller.

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