John Katzenbach


"The Wrong Man"

(reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky NOV 16, 2006)

“A really dedicated stalker makes a science of his obsession.  A science and an art.  He not only studies his victim, but their world, as well.  He devotes every waking thought to his target.  He comes to know them almost better than they know themselves.”

John Katzenbach's The Wrong Man features a particularly nasty villain named Michael O'Connell. After having a one-night stand with lovely art student Ashley Freeman, O'Connell begins to stalk her relentlessly. When she tries to reason with him, he merely smirks and tells her that eventually she will understand that they are destined to be together. Ashley would prefer not to involve her family in her problems, but eventually her father Scott, a college history professor, and her mother, Sally, a lawyer, find out that Ashley is in serious trouble. They, along with Hope, Sally's lover, decide to put their heads together to come up with a plan to deal with O'Connell.

We have seen many stalkers in other thrillers, but O'Connell has some special qualities. First, he is an expert computer hacker who uses his considerable skills to invade and disrupt the lives of people he despises. In addition, he seems to have little need of outside income (those computer skills come in handy, one must assume), since instead of working, he has unlimited time to keep tabs on Ashley. O'Connell is a sadist who arranges convenient "accidents" to eliminate people who, he fears, might be getting too close to Ashley. In fact, he is a master criminal who uses his brilliant mind to commit felonies without leaving any forensic evidence behind. How can Ashley get her life back? Will she have to look over her shoulder indefinitely? After much soul searching, Ashley's parents come up with a way to fight back against this vicious man who has robbed Ashley of her innocence and peace of mind.

The Wrong Man had the potential to be a suspenseful and psychologically engaging thriller and it does have some genuinely chilling moments. However, at over four hundred and fifty pages, it is too long and repetitious. O'Connell is a one-dimensional psychopath who is almost too bad to be true. In addition, Katzenbach uses a clumsy narrative device that disrupts the novel's flow. Throughout the book, the author inserts a series of intense conversations between an unknown woman and an unnamed writer. The woman, who is obviously an insider, for some reason feels the need to give a detailed account of the conflict between O'Connell and the Freemans to a total stranger. Instead of illuminating the story, however, these passages feel artificial and intrusive. In addition, the long-awaited conclusion is convoluted and unrealistic. If it had been more carefully constructed and edited, The Wrong Man could have been a taut thriller about the extremes to which ordinary people might be driven when seeking justice in an unjust world.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 41 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Wrong Man at RandomHouse.com

 

Editor's Note:

"And don't you see ? From our perpective, looking at the story from our safe spot in the world, it's okay to see that there is this person out there trying to ruin their lives. But they couldn't see that."

"Why not?" I blurted.

"Because it's not reasonable. Because it made no sense. I mean, why? Why would he want to do this to them?"

Ms. Bukowsky and I experienced this novel from different perspectives regarding the "intense conversations" between a man and woman that occurs at the end of each chapter. Whereas, Eleanor thought that they detracted from the story, I felt that they helped the story's credibility and were an ingenious way to make the reader sit back and realize that they were reading this story from a comfortable perspective; and that often, a victim's myopic view does make sense at the time that events are taking place, just not in hindsight. I also thought the conversations had their own bit of intrigue since it was not clear until the last page exactly who was speaking and providing the links to the whole story. This unknown narrator drives the story teller /reporter to look into different aspects of the events, providing a logical glue to the novel and to appreciate the depth to which the stalker was willing to go after his victim. Thus, rather than being a straight-forward suspense novel, it almost becomes a study of victim behaviour. Normally, I would not read a "stalker" novel, but because of the author's technique with the intense conversations, I found myself far more reflective on the whole notion of what it is to be stalked and thus was less forgiving of some of the novel's flaws. Certainly, I was not disappointed that it wasn't all about the stalker. In fact, I would recommend a book group to take on this book since I think it would generate some interesting dialogue.



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About the Author:

John KatzenbachJohn Katzenbach has been a criminal court reporter for The Miami Herald and Miami News and a featured writer for the Herald’s Tropic magazine. He lives in western Massachusetts.

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