If you ever travel anywhere with Jeff Abbott, insist on driving. Even if it's just to the corner convenience store. Because if he drives like he writes, you'll be so wired by the time you get to your destination that you'll be hunched beneath the dashboard, with your fingers covering your eyes. Well, you'll be peeking, but you get the idea.
My reason for saying this is that I just finished Abbott's latest novel, PANIC, a task that requires --- nay, demands! --- your nonstop attention from beginning to end. The body count starts on page six and doesn't stop until practically the very end. However, this isn't a spray-and-pray gorefest; it's a smart, intelligent thriller that keeps you unsteady and guessing throughout, combining the best elements of such novels as MARATHON MAN and nearly everything that Robert Ludlum ever wrote, and whipping it into a verbal frenzy that is all Abbott's own.
PANIC begins with Evan Casher getting an early morning telephone call from his mother, who tells him that he needs to come and see her in Austin, TX immediately. Casher makes the two-plus-hour drive from Houston in record time to find his mother murdered in her kitchen and himself on the receiving end of a brutal, deadly attack. He is saved by a mysterious benefactor who sets Casher on a dangerous path of discovery and duplicity.
An up-and-coming documentary filmmaker, Casher is not without his own resources, but soon he finds himself in way over his head. He quickly discovers that his parents are not who he thinks they were, and that someone --- actually, a group of someones --- believes that Casher possesses information that they are all too willing to kill for in order to obtain. Casher cannot trust anyone --- his mysterious rescuer, his girlfriend, even his own father --- and one of the fabulous elements of this book is that the reader can't either.
There are also a couple of really, really nasty guys, Dezz and Jargos, who collectively are a lifetime's worth of nightmares. But don't get too attached to anyone in PANIC; they'll either break your heart or disappoint you by not making it to the end of the novel. Well, there might be an exception or two, but you'll have to read to find out.
If you need an adrenaline jolt, or your heart kick-started, PANIC is just the ticket. The title is in big letters on the cover for a reason. And don't start it if you can't finish it on the same day or night. You'll drive yourself crazy waiting.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub