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Spotlight on: Killer Instinct by Joseph Finder

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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.

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