is a suspense novel--it says so right on the cover. In Stephen King's blurb of praise, Peter Abrahams is his "favorite American suspense novelist." That should mean nail-biting action--what's lurking around that corner?--eerie coincidence, disturbing glances into the depths of human evil, right? Well, yes. But Abrahams's novel is also a remarkably sensitive examination of a naive young man's emergence from an insular environment into a world more disorienting than he'd ever thought college could be.
Nat is an enormously likable protagonist. His decision to leave his small hometown in Colorado to attend Inverness College, an equally small but very prestigious liberal arts institution, will force him to question attitudes and ways of life he had always taken for granted. But such novelty can be disturbing as well as rewarding: when he meets fellow students Grace and Izzie Zorn, a pair of twins born with any number of silver spoons in their identically lovely mouths, Nat must struggle to reconcile their matter-of-fact acceptance of the omnipresence of money with his own frugal existence. Both dreamer and pragmatist, Nat immediately captures the reader's sympathy.
Abrahams frames Nat's growing awareness of the complexity of existence against the life and times of Freedy Knight, a thief, bodybuilder, and con artist for whom complexity means figuring out a method of acquiring both money and women. Freedy is Abrahams's masterpiece, and he plays with the convention of free indirect discourse to bring the reader right into Freedy's supremely self-satisfied and remarkably funny mind. After a stunning failure as a pool maintenance engineer in California--"Women liked brains, no getting around it. Brains meant sensitivity. For example, floating in the water near the filter was a little furry thing. 'Poor little fella,' you could say to some woman who happened to come by the pool. That was all it took: sensitivity. Combine that with the ripped part, the buff part, the diesel part--that bare-chested dude, wearing cut-offs and workboots, the skimmer held loose in his hands, was he himself, after all--and what did you have? The kind of dude women went crazy for, absolutely no denying that."--Freedy brings his arrogance and a powerful methamphetamine addiction back east. It's only a matter of time before his path and Nat's will cross.
When Freedy (searching for dorm room goodies to fence) and the Inverness trio both stumble upon the underground rooms of a long-gone secret society, and when his mother's unemployment means that Nat can no longer afford to stay at Inverness, greed, nonchalance, and fear unite. The three students are on a collision course with a desperately charismatic criminal; the twins' well-intentioned plan to keep Nat at Inverness by staging a kidnapping for ransom will go horribly awry. Nothing bad was supposed to happen: they were only crying wolf. Unfortunately, sometimes the wolf is real. --Kelly Flynn
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From Publishers Weekly
Edgar nominee Abrahams (Lights Out; A Perfect Crime) returns with a suspense novel built around kidnapping, extortion and youthful stupidity. Nat is the eager, sports-loving valedictorian of his small-town Colorado high school. With his $2,000 prize in an essay contest, he can just barely afford to enroll at Inverness, an elite New England college. There he meets Grace and Izzie Zorn, twins from a wealthy Manhattan family, who bring Nat home with them for the Christmas holiday and show him tall buildings, fine wines and decadent parties. Meanwhile, a steroid-pumped, speed-freak criminal named Freedy flees his job cleaning swimming pools in L.A. after a botched rape and assault. Heading home to Inverness to live off his perpetually stoned mother, he discovers his next source of income: technological appliances from the college. Freedy begins ripping them off and fencing them to a local hood, using a network of tunnels beneath the school to get in and out. Nearly stumbling into Freedy one night, Nat and the girls discover a hidden room full of old books and booze, which becomes their hideaway. When Nat's mother is fired from her job, Nat fears he'll have to drop out of Inverness, so the girls (both have slept with him by now) plot to stage their own kidnapping, earmarking the "ransom" for Nat's tuition. Mr. Zorn quickly thwarts their plan, but Freedy, who has been spying on Nat and the girls' secret meetings, hatches his own, far more dangerous, kidnapping scam. Now, when the situation is serious, Nat's vain pleas for help give the novel its name. Abrahams's plot moves too slowly to please readers looking for danger, verve and action, and his characters are too crudely drawn to succeed as examples of dissolute late-adolescent elites. With his foul language and his 'roid and meth-driven delusions of grandeur, Freedy makes for an interesting villain, but his rages can't sustain the book. Nat remains too naive for too long, his girlfriends are two-dimensional and a distracting subplot (involving Nat's philosophy professor, Mr. Zorn and Freedy's mother) is left unresolved. (Mar.)
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