Monday, May 30, 2011

The Worst Thing - Aaron Elkins

The Worst Thing
Aaron Elkins
Berkley Prime Crime


For those readers who have followed this author’s excellent Gideon Oliver series (LITTLE TINY TEETH, UNEASY RELATIONS, SKULL DUGGERY) this standalone novel is almost by definition a let-down of sorts.  If you have met Gideon and his lovely and beloved wife Julie, then you have met Bryan and his wife Lori.  If you know the first couple, you know immediately how the current couple relates to each other and just about everything else.  I’m not sure why this bothers me so much, since I sincerely like Gideon and Julie, but it does.

The only real difference is that Bryan is in crisis management.  He was once a hostage negotiator.  Now he writes policy and prepares presentation for the executives of large corporations regarding how to avoid abductions.  In many countries around the world, kidnapping for profit is a form of business.  He’s quite good at what he does because, when he was a child, he was abducted and held for nearly two months.  The memories of that time have colored most of his life.  He will not fly, due to feelings of loss of control.  He will not present the programs he writes, because it just hits too close to home.

Eventually, of course, he’s confronted with his fears.  His boss wants him to fly to Iceland and give his presentation to GlobalSeas.  Instantly, Bryan is against the idea.  First, he’d have to fly.  Second, the CEO of GlobalSeas has already been the victim of an abduction attempt.  That would put Bryan much too close to kidnappers for his comfort.  Bryan’s wife, Lori, a marine biologist would love to make the trip and see the country and the company.  It’s her desire and Bryan’s guilt that goads him into agreeing, in spite of himself.

The worst thing that could happen, for Bryan, would be another kidnapping.  It’s hardly a giveaway to say that this eventually does occur.  A lot of the book takes place inside Bryan’s head, while he deals with his fears, his memories, and his captivity.  These sections are written in first-person, from Bryan’s point of view.  It’s a bit jarring, then, to be thrown into third-person to witness the action happening elsewhere.  We see how Lori and the Icelandic police deal with things; we see the kidnappers deal with each other.  Then it’s back to being inside Bryan’s head. 

 I think it might have been far more effective, and certainly more interesting from a psychological standpoint, if we spent the entire book with Bryan.  A big part of his lecture program is to tell the executives what to expect and how to deal with it.  Being taken out of Bryan’s point-of-view cuts the tension and really dilutes the effect of experiencing being a hostage.  In the end, this head-hopping makes the book less effective than it might have been.  Add to this one last-minute plot twist too many, and, even with an interesting setting, the result is a bit disappointing from such a talented author.

Rating: 7
May 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24099-1 (hardcover)


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