Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thrillers For the Masses

Mass market paperbacks don’t get nearly enough attention from reviewers, but two thrillers just out, one reprint and one original, are worth raving about:

FEAR, by the redoubtable Jeff Abbott (who began in paperbacks and moved on into stiffer covers), is a gem – maybe 50 pages too long, but you can always skip over any scenes that seem to be padding. It’s an amazingly timely story about victims of severe post traumatic stress disorder. The main character, Miles Kendrick, a former private investigator, killed his best friend when an FBI sting went bad. The dead man now lives an active life inside Kendrick’s head – rather like the main character in Charles Todd's series A False Mirror (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries) about a Scotland Yard detective inhabited by the ghost of a soldier he had shot for cowardice during World War One.

Other important players are a Marine who suffered a severe head wound in Iraq, and a woman who starred in a TV reality show and watched while her husband was murdered by a man who had been stalking her. All three are being treated by a woman psychiatrist who specializes in PTSD, and have been taking an experimental drug called Frost which works on the fear-producing part of the brain.

Abbott’s story propels these three (as well as several memorable villains, who want Frost for profit or personal need) through the beautifully recreated environs of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Fish Camp, near Yosemite in California. If you missed Fear in hardcover, catch up with it (and save some dough) in this flashy reprint.

KILL TIME, by T.J. MacGregor, who won an Edgar for Out Of Sight (Tango Key Mysteries), is equally pertinent and riveting – and has the icing on the cake of one of my favorite subjects, time travel. Nora McKee is having lunch with her husband Jake at their favorite restaurant in Blue River, Mass. Two agents from the thinly-veiled Federal Dept. of Freedom and Security (known as Freeze on the street), who wear uniforms “the color of rich, bitter chocolate” grab Jake and carry him off to a waiting van, knocking Nora down when she tries to intervene.

When Nora was ten, 23 years ago, her mother was taken by an earlier version of Freeze and was never seen again. She became one of America’s own legion of “disappeared,” people who suddenly vanish for political reasons. So Nora isn’t going to give up on Jake without a fight – even though she planned to tell him their marriage was over at lunch. As in Abbott’s book, there are some nasty Feds hiding in the woodwork, and Macgregor also explores such exotic settings as an island prison off the coast of Florida as well as many journeys to other times and other places.

Kill Time takes its place on my short list of best time travel stories – Screenplay, by Macdonald Harris; Time and Again; Somewhere In Time; The Time Traveler's Wife.

What am I missing?

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