(Reviewed by Debbie Lee Wesselmann SEP 30, 2006)
Joseph Finder has written yet another fast-paced, character-driven thriller, this time about a young sales manager who discovers the power of "networking" as probably no other white collar worker has. Jason Steadman is a man largely satisfied with his life: as a district sales manager of plasma television giant Entronics, he drives an Audi, is married to a beautiful, intelligent woman, and makes an income that would stun his blue-collar worker father. Not everything is perfect, however; he and his wife Kate have been unable to conceive despite numerous in vitro attempts, and Kate's desperation has begun to eat at their relationship. To make things worse, Kate's sister and brother-in-law are so well-off and are not afraid to point out the differences in their lifestyles that Kate is prompted to tell Jason that he has become "frozen in amber" in his recent position. She tells him that it's his time to "really start climbing the ladder." Jason, who is anxious to please the woman he isn't sure he deserves, puts in for the unlikely promotion that has opened up.
In the meantime, Jason has crashed his Audi and has met tow-truck driver and ex-minor league pitcher Kurt, whom he recruits to pitch for the abysmal company softball team. Jason likes Kurt, and Kurt likes Jason, so it seems only natural to "promote" Kurt from softball ringer to actual employee at Entronics. Kurt’s background in the Special Forces makes him a natural for corporate security. Because Kurt never forgets a favor, he begins feeding Jason information that will ensure that Jason gets the promotion Kate wants for him. However, a string of bad luck for Jason's competitors raises Jason's suspicions about Kurt. By then, Kurt has already inserted himself in Jason's personal life by doing things around the house for Kate. As circumstances make Jason seem more and more the golden boy and those around him seem destined for failure or worse, Jason tries to get Kurt to stop "helping" him behind the scenes. The more Jason questions, the more he fears the answers and the more he wants to sever his relationship with the oddly loyal man. The only problem is no one gets rid of Kurt.
Finder is a master at creating suspense in small, incremental moments that build toward the end. For example, the first time Finder shows Kurt inside Jason's house, the reader is uneasy despite the outwardly friendly nature of the character. As Kurt continues to appear unexpectedly, even though nothing truly unusual happens, the reader and Jason become more and more apprehensive about what is happening that cannot be seen. This suspense of omission allows the reader to unravel the mystery just one step behind Jason; instead of spoiling the intrigue, it adds to it.
Killer Instinct is not the kind of novel that prompts the reader to read quickly just to see what happens but instead is enjoyable on every page. Getting to the end is perhaps more entertaining than the conclusion itself, although Finder makes sure that the resolution is satisfying on several levels. The characters are likeable and believable––at least, as much as they can be in a thriller Even wife Kate comes across as a fully drawn: a woman complicated by her past and by the pressure her sister puts on her. It helps that Finder's competent prose does not distract from the plot. It is neither overblown nor mundane, sentences with just enough voice to evoke the stakes of the situation.
Joseph Finder's fans will not be disappointed with this latest effort. The author's skill with the elements of intrigue and suspense creates an entertaining, engrossing read that will leave readers hungering for his next novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 122 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Killer Instinct at author's website(back to top)
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky MAY 7 , 2005)
Nick Conover is a man whose life is about to take a nosedive in Company Man, Joseph Finder's latest and, perhaps, best novel. Nick has already endured the loss of his beloved wife, Laura, in a car accident. He is uneasy being a single parent to his sixteen-year-old son and his ten-year-old daughter. As the CEO of Stratton Industries, a manufacturer of high-end office furniture, he has overseen the layoffs of thousands of workers. Many people who live in his small Michigan town hate Conover for failing to save these people's jobs.
Conover lives with his kids in a gated mansion, but the security surrounding his home fails to prevent a series of break-ins, one of which results in the evisceration of their dog, Barney. Nick is terrified that he will be unable to protect himself and his children from the vicious and potentially lethal enemy who is threatening them. Soon tragedy strikes, and Nick is up to his ears in personal and professional problems. One of the few bright spots in Nick's life is a new relationship that he has formed with a lovely woman named Cassie. She supports him emotionally and has a magical way of communicating with Nick's children.
Finder develops his large cast of characters with skill and they are all well integrated into the complex story. The protagonist, Nick Conover, is a concerned and caring parent, but he has never resolved his guilt feelings about his late wife's death. He is also unable to communicate with his son, Lucas, who is showing signs of becoming an emotional train wreck.
I particularly liked the character of Audrey Rimes, an African-American detective with the Major Case Team. She is a sharp and dogged investigator whose marriage has deteriorated since her husband lost his job at Stratton Industries. She has had to endure the pranks and slurs of racist and chauvinistic colleagues who insult her on the job. However, Audrey is a church-going woman whose faith has kept her strong over the years, and she will not give up her marriage or her professional ambitions without a fight. When Audrey suspects that Nick may be involved in the murder of an emotionally disturbed man who was laid off by Nick's company, she pursues him relentlessly.
Company Man features realistic dialogue, an involving and fast-paced story with nitty-gritty details about police procedure, and an exciting, surprising, and nail-biting finale. In addition, Finder skillfully handles such themes as the tug-of-war between job and family responsibilities, and the importance of following the dictates of one's conscience. This book is more than just a paint-by-numbers thriller. It is an engrossing and carefully crafted novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 93 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Company Man at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Moscow Club (1990)
- Extraordinary Powers (1994)
- The Zero Hour (1996)
- High Crimes (1998)
- Paranoia (January 2004)
- Company Man (April 2005)
- Killer Instinct (May 2006)
- Power Play (August 2007)
Nick Heller Series:
- Vanished (August 2009)
Movies from books:
- High Crimes (2002)
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- Official website for Joseph Finder
- BookReporter review of Paranoia
- PopMatters review of Paranoia
- The New York Times review of Company Man
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About the Author:
Joseph Finder was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1958. He spent much of his early childhood in Afghanistan and the Philippines as well as Bellingham, Washington. He went to high school in Albany, New York.
Finder graduated summa cum laude from Yale majoring in Russian studies. He received his master's degree from the Harvard Russian Research Center in 1984, and, later joined the Harvard faculty.
Finder begin writing fiction in the 1980s when he discovered that his secret sources (he is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers) were more willing to talk to him as a novelist than a journalist. With this insiders information, his novels have a reputation for predicting world events before they hit the news. His first novel, The Moscow Club, published to great acclaim in thirty countries, predicted the coup that ended the Soviet Union. Extraordinary Powers, his second novel, anticipated by several months the explosive revelation of a mole high in the ranks of the CIA.
In addition to his fiction, Finder continues to write extensively on espionage and international affairs for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic.
Finder lives in Boston, Massachusetts with his wife and son.