The stupidity that thrills

August 21, 2009

Thriller fiction is not a favorite genre of mine. The author’s voice is obvious to me, heavy handed as it manipulates events to create the intrigue.

Also, the stupidity of the characters, who ultimately have to lack discernment for the plot to work, bugs me. So does the thin line between what’s realistic and what isn’t.

I realize thrillers are designed to be entertaining, character development is not to be expected and the goal is a page-turner. So when I read one, I keep that in the forefront of my mind.  I hope … maybe … I’ll be consumed by heart-pounding intrigue, and I’ll lose track of time and all my obligations.

Panic AttackThat didn’t work with Jason Starr’s new thriller, Panic Attack. Those darn biases. They got in the way.  But because they are rooted in personal preference, I could see them for what they are and at the same time recognize Starr’s talent.

As an entertaining, thrill-packed novel, Panic Attack is a winner.

A planned murder hangs over every page. Starr perfectly creates the set-up and then teases us with the arrogance and innocence of the victims playing right into the hand of the killer.

The story opens with two thieves breaking into the house of the wealthy Adam and Dana Bloom late at night. Adam shoots and kills one while the other escapes unseen.

This other one — Johnny Long — charms his way into becoming the boyfriend of the Blooms’ live-at-home daughter, Marissa, a Vassar grad. He uses her to gain information about and easy access to the family, whom he plans to kill to avenge his friend’s death.

Of course, I couldn’t help but see times when the Blooms should realize something’s not right about Johnny.  I could list them here, but what’s the point?  Adam, Dana and Marissa aren’t me.  Starr has created them to be so narcissistic, arrogant and self-involved that it wouldn’t fit their characters to have insight. 

When Johnny starts to fulfill his murderous plan, the plot gets more intense. At the same time, Starr loses a bit of his fast, well-contrived pacing.  He needs to wrap up the action more quickly than he does.

Even though the pace bogs down a bit in the last chapters, Starr still kept me guessing as to who would survive and who wouldn’t in the end.

Was I entertained? Yes. Did the oblivious behavior of the characters get to me? Yes. But that’s just how it sometimes has to work.

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