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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Keith Peterson: The Trapdoor (Rating: 7)

I just finished reading a book I've owned for years—perhaps since it was first published in 1988— called The Trapdoor, by Keith Peterson.

Keith Peterson is a pseudonym of Andrew Klavan, who has written—under his own name—a number of books that I have never heard of, and two that I have only heard of because they've been made into movies: Don't Say a Word and True Crime.

I'm actually amazed I've never heard of him; Amazon says:

Andrew Klavan is the author of several bestselling novels . . .

The Trapdoor is, possibly, not a book I would have chosen right now, but I've had it on the small bookshelf I use as a nightstand for some time now, hiding it from my son. (He's six years old and has had a—possibly unhealthy—fascination with the cover for years.)

Anyway, a while back I was doing some spring cleaning and that meant taking everything off of the bookshelf and dusting and rearranging and voila, there it was, so I gave it a go.

Things I liked about this book:

  • the main character: John Wells, a dinosaur of a journalist who refuses to turn in his manual typewriter for a computer. I like a flawed character, and this guy has a few, not the least is that fact that he is haunted (not literally) by the memory of his daughter who commit suicide five years ago when she was 15.
  • the situation: there have been a rash of teen suicides in a nearby county and he has been pulled off of his usual beat by his somewhat sadistic editor and sent up to cover the story. (The aforementioned editor knows John's personal history when he assigns him to the story.) Once he shows up at the scene, it quickly becomes apparent that there just might be more going on here.
  • the pace: after a somewhat slow start, the book picks up to a nice clip, and the last half just flies by. The pace is further aided by keeping the chapters short and leaving you hanging at the end of each, sort of the James Patterson school of writing.
  • the plot & resolution: I liked the way the story played out. Fiction writers use a technique, well—the good fiction writers do, anyway—that Rust Hills called (in Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular) the inevitability of retrospect which means, essentially, that:
    • as a character moves forward in time there seems to be any number of ways they can go, any number of choices they (and all the other characters) can proceed,
    • but when you reach the end of the story and look back, the whole process seems to lead inevitably to the resolution as it occurred.
    That's how the plot of this book works. When it is done right, and it is here, it is very effective.
Things I didn't really care for about this book:
  • the main character: Yeah, I know what I said above, but there are things about him I just didn't like. For instance, he really needs to get some Nicorette ®. And though I've heard cigarettes called "cigs", has anyone ever called them "'rettes"? I've never heard that one. There are other strange words or phrases this guy uses as well, and perhaps they're just painting a picture of who he is and used for effect, but I didn't care for it.
  • the plot & resolution: I didn't care for the fact that I got wind of what was going on so long before the end of the book. Maybe I'm just smarter than most folks (extraordinarily doubtful) or the ending was telegraphed a bit too much.

All in all, I can see why this book was an Edgar Award runner up. His next(?) John Wells book, The Rain did win an Edgar, though.