Sunday, November 1, 2009
Review: OR SHE DIES by Gregg Hurwitz
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
You could say it's unsurprising that acclaimed LA-based Gregg Hurwitz writes fast-paced thrillers; after all, his own life is pretty action-packed. Over the past decade since his debut THE TOWER broke through, in between penning several high-octane suspense novels (and having crazy adventures, e.g. blowing up cars, diving with sharks, joining biker runs through LA Canyon, or going undercover in a cult, all for research), he's been writing screenplays for film and TV, academic articles analysing Shakespeare (he studied literature at Harvard and Oxford), and graphic novels such as Punisher and Wolverine for Marvel. Applying some baseball parlance, Hurwitz is a rare 'five-tool player' – excelling in several diverse if related skill-sets, on the writing front.
OR SHE DIES, Hurwitz's tenth thriller, starts with a bang (literally), before taking us on a pulse-pounding journey as an ordinary man fights unseen forces. Patrick is having a horrible run; his breakthrough screenplay was slated for big success until the obnoxious lead actor falsely accused him of assault, he's being sued by the studio, the budding career he desired for so long is in tatters, and his neglected wife Ariana has had an affair with the neighbour. Washed up before he even really began, sleeping on the couch, and drifting through existence both at home and at his low-rent film teaching job, he feels he's hit bottom.
Then things get even worse – DVDs showing hidden-camera footage of Patrick and Ariana's disconnected domestic life start appearing. Someone is spying on them, and Patrick has no idea who or why. All he knows is that someone very powerful is out to get him, and he must follow their instructions or someone will die.
Hurwitz is a master at hooking readers early, reeling them in, and then slowly ratcheting up the tension more and more to explosive levels. Engrossing and intelligent – his books pull you along as well as making you think, both about what is happening (and may happen) in the plot, but also about some wider issues.
It may sound like a reviewer's cliché, but I did actually find this book very, very hard to put down – I was picking it up at breaks and lunchtime as I couldn't wait until the end of the work day to find out what happened. Somewhat surprisingly, I even felt my own heart-rate rising at times as I read OR SHE DIES; I actually felt nervous for the characters, in a physical way rather than just as a fascinated if detached observer. Patrick is a flawed human being, as are all the characters (to varying degrees), but Hurwitz had me really caring what happened to him and those around him, which is a far deeper reason to keep reading than a simple ‘I wonder what will happen'.
Fans of writers like Linwood Barclay will appreciate the way Hurwitz creates tremendous suspense centred on a fairly ordinary guy, an everyman, rather than relying on spies or super-cops and their out-of-this-world antics. But although the book starts with domestic unease and in-the-home threats, it does rise towards something far greater in scope and scale in the latter stages – as Patrick discovers he's been treated as a disposable pawn in someone else's big-money board-game.
Hurwitz keeps a good handle on the tension and pace right throughout, and even though the reader's mind is racing, envisaging all sorts of potential reveals, he still manages to deliver several well-written surprises right up until the end.
You almost feel like you need a rest after this book. Or a lie down. OR SHE DIES was my first taste of Gregg Hurwitz. It certainly won't be the last. 4 STARS