Wednesday, January 27, 2010

O is for OR SHE DIES by Gregg Hurwitz

Continuing the fun series started by fellow Anzac book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, where each week bloggers from around the world write about a notable crime fiction novel or author (first name or surname) starting with a particular letter of the alphabet, this week is the turn of "O".

After a couple of Kiwi crime fiction related "Alphabet" posts, I thought I'd head back overseas, and revisit one of the better books I reviewed last year (and one of my now-favourite 'new authors' for me in 2009); OR SHE DIES by California-based thriller writer (and acclaimed graphic novelist, and Shakespearean scholar, and TV and film screenwriter) Gregg Hurwitz.

OR SHE DIES, Hurwitz’s tenth thriller (third released in Australia and New Zealand thusfar), starts with a bang (literally), before taking us on an increasingly chilling and 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, and his neglected wife Ariana had an affair with their 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.

In an interview with the New Zealand Herald in September last year, 36-year old Hurwitz said that he often gets his best ideas in the wee small hours of the morning. "I'm constantly dreaming up scenarios,” he said in an article you can read here. “With OR SHE DIES I couldn't sleep and started thinking what if someone was recording me inside my house ... the whole story started to unspool inside my head. It's how I amuse myself."

As his writing career has progressed, Hurwitz admits there have been changes in the plots and themes of his thrillers. While his latest works, including OR SHE DIES, remain high-octane and pulse-pounding, the heroes have changed. In our interview on Auckland’s North Shore when he was touring New Zealand last year, he said "As I have got older, I have found my writing has changed, as my life has changed... I am now married with a couple of kids... I have moved from adventure and super-cops to more about family and domestic suspense."
When it comes to centring his later books, such as OR SHE DIES, on ‘everyman’ heroes facing extraordinary circumstances, rather than spies or cartoon-like supercops, Hurwitz told me: "I love those everyman stories; an ordinary person stuck in extraordinary circumstances... I always thought those everyman characters stand in for all of us in the way that if we're tired/stressed/down... we can all feel we're a fraud, that we're really not up to our job... and then magnifying that by like 1000%... we've all experienced that paranoia, at least in a small way..."

In one of my reviews of OR SHE DIES (a book I really enjoyed), I said: “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…

… 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.”

Have you read OR SHE DIES? Any novels by Gregg Hurwitz? What did you think? Do you enjoy ‘suburban suspense’ such as that written by people like Hurwitz and Linwood Barclay? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. As always, Craig, a very interesting and thoughtful review! I actually like "surburban mysteries." They can be very, very suspenseful.

  2. Now this is an author I've heard of but never read - thanks for the writeup for Crime Fiction Alphabet Craig.

  3. I haven't tried Hurwitz yet either Craig but this one sounds good. I have read two of Linwood Barclay's books - I enjoyed NO TIME FOR GOODBYE but found TOO CLOSE TO HOME a bit predictable and silly so I guess he's a bit hit and miss for me - I'll have to read a third one to break the deadlock :)

  4. I really enjoyed both FEAR THE WORST and NEVER LOOK AWAY (the latest two Linwood Barclay books) Bernadette.