Tag Archives: Gregg Hurwitz

‘The Survivor,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Survivor

Cielle curled her legs beneath herself on the couch. “Is it scary?”

“Being sick?”

She nodded. Her fists rose to her chin, elbows on her knees. She might have been six or ten. “What’s it like?”

He could feel Janie, too, focused on him. The stillness was electric.

“It teaches you that no part of you is sacred,” he said. “And that other people are.”

Dear heavens, what Gregg Hurwitz puts me through with his novels.

Listen to the premise of The Survivor:

Nate Overbay has nothing left to live for. He lost his family, thanks to PTSD. Now he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). And so he climbs out on a ledge on the 11th story of a bank building, to get it over with before the real suffering starts.

But instead of killing himself, he stops a bloody bank robbery, killing four out of five of the bank robbers. The lone survivor, before fleeing, tells him, “He will make you pay, in ways you can’t imagine.”

Soon, in spite of a steadily failing body, Nate is fighting desperately for the lives of his wife and daughter. Along the way he finds redemption he’d never thought possible.

Completely implausible. I didn’t believe the premise for a second. This book is so over the top it would never work if it weren’t being told by a consummate storyteller who knows how to flip all our switches. You will care – deeply – about this man and his family, people who come alive in stirring ways. You’ll even care about the villain, to an extent. The Survivor is, simply, a moving, irresistible read.

Cautions for language, violence, and plain intensity.

‘The Crime Writer,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Crime Writer

“You’re living an investigation?”

“A story. We all are, but this segment of my life has a pleasing structure to it.”

“Maybe that’s why it happened to you.”

“I don’t believe in intelligent design.”

“Sure you do.” She waved a hand at the book spines in all their eye-catching glory.

Drew Danner, the hero of Gregg Hurwitz’s novel The Crime Writer, is precisely that. He writes crime thrillers, and has gotten a movie deal and a TV series. He’s kind of a minor big shot in LA.

Until the day he wakes up in a hospital bed with a cop watching him. He is informed that a brain tumor has been removed from his head, and that he has murdered his ex-girlfriend. He can’t remember anything about it.

Drew gets off on a temporary insanity plea, thanks to the tumor, but he’s haunted. He needs to know whether he did this thing or not. He becomes even more frantic after another woman is murdered, with evidence pointing to him again. Has he become a danger to society, homicidal during blackouts?

His investigation (in which he learns, embarrassingly, that he knows less than he thought he did about the things he’s been writing about) leads him to meet an emotionally fragile, damaged woman with whom he begins a relationship. In Hurwitz’s trademark style, the tension zooms rather than ratchets up, and the stakes are soon greater than just Drew’s freedom – they involve his sanity and his very sense of himself.

I think I liked this book better than any Hurwitz I’ve read to date (I also think it’s the first thriller he wrote). Aspects I appreciated included some Christian characters who were treated simply as decent human beings, without a trace of condescension. There was a homosexual character who was so subtly revealed that you only began to suspect his orientation gradually, as is often the case in real life. And – perhaps for the first time in a novel for me – there was a sex scene that actually did advance the plot. It was done in good taste, and was very touching.

I probably need to mention that I did figure out whodunit fairly early on. That didn’t really bother me, though. I loved The Crime Writer for its own sake.

Highly recommended. Cautions for the usual.

‘They’re Watching,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

They're Watching

A sometime model from Bulgaria, she had a knee-weakening accent and natural eyelashes longer than most Hollywood prenups.

Patrick Davis briefly realized his dream of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter. He saw his script turned into a major picture. Then one day, on the set, he managed to sabotage his career, and shortly thereafter his marriage began to fall apart. Now he’s sleeping on the couch, contemplating a separation, and has taken a job teaching college-level writing. He feels pretty bad, but it’s about to get worse.

At the beginning of They’re Watching (by Gregg Hurwitz) Patrick brings in the morning paper one day to find an unlabeled DVD inside it. The video on the disc demonstrates that someone has been watching and filming him – even coming inside his house. After a couple more DVDs are delivered – and the police say they can’t help – he starts getting demands that he carry out certain tasks.

The odd thing is that they’re nice tasks.

But what follows is not nice at all. Soon Patrick is the chief suspect in a headline homicide, facing the prospect of conviction and execution. All indications say that the people manipulating him are powerful on a world-class scale, and have resources neither he nor the police (even if they believed him) can match.

I think They’re Watching is one of Gregg Hurwitz’s earlier books, and it seemed to me he hadn’t quite mastered the “start with an earthquake and then escalate” style his most recent books demonstrate when he wrote it. And frankly I liked that. The more leisurely beginning was easier for me to handle. But the stakes got high quickly enough, and I was riveted (despite the highly improbable plot – but after all they’re all highly improbable). It’s the kind of book designed to be made into a Mark Wahlberg movie with loads of choppy action and chase scenes. Lots of fun.

Cautions for language, violence, and adult themes, as you’d expect. Recommended for its proper audience.

‘You’re Next,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

You're Next

“And it means the world to Mike. I’m worried about him. He’s been really… angry. I’ve never seen him like this.”

“You don’t worry about Mike when he’s mad,” Shep said. “You worry about him when he’s quiet.”

Mike Wingate, the hero of You’re Next, by Gregg Hurwitz, doesn’t know his real last name. As a boy of four he was abandoned by his father at a playground, with a promise that he’d come back to reclaim him someday. Mike waited, but he never returned.

Growing up in a group home, Mike learned to survive. He and his friend Shep formed a simple code: “Endurance. Loyalty.” Shep becomes a criminal but Mike, after a brief term in prison, goes straight. He marries and fathers a daughter. Eventually he becomes a property developer. He builds a “green” community that gets his picture in the papers with the governor of California.

And that’s when everything starts to go horribly wrong.

Someone has been looking for Mike all his life. Someone who wants him dead, along with his daughter. Mike will see his perfect life shattered, and he’ll have to call on Shep to help him protect his family and solve a decades-old mystery involving land and bloodlines and merciless greed.

The plot is Hitchcockian, the stakes high, the tension tight enough to snap steel. Honestly, these novels by Gregg Hurwitz are almost more than I can handle (but I’m kind of a wimp, as you know). Just when you think the danger can’t get worse, it does. Just when you think the mystery is solved, a new wrinkle appears. I was scared and I was moved. When it was done, I bought a Bruce Beckham novel to read next. I can’t handle too much of this all at once.

Cautions for language and violence. There are a couple of political barbs, but they point both ways. Highly recommended, unless you have a weak heart.

‘Tell No Lies,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Tell No Lies

Everyone’s got a con, a pinch of deceit, a green light at the end of the dock. And a dream, however grand or modest. A way they want it to be and an angle to get there.

Daniel Brasher is the scion of a San Francisco elite family. He turned his back on all that, and on his egregious mother’s wishes, to marry a “community organizer” and become a counselor to parolees. He’s tough on them. No lying in his group. He’s good at his job, and his marriage is happy, especially after his wife survived cancer.

The mail room in the moribund building where he works is little-used, so Daniel is surprised, visiting it one day after ignoring it a while, to find several envelopes addressed to other people in his box. He takes them home, planning to forward them the next day. Then he learns that one of the addressees was murdered. Opening the envelope, he discovers a letter threatening that person, giving them a now-expired deadline to “tell what you done.”

Daniel calls the police, but that’s not the end of his involvement. As further murders occur, he finds that a circle of violence is coming to center upon him personally. Fighting to save his own life and his wife’s, he’s forced to confront his own secret wrongdoings – his own kinship with the criminals he counsels. That’s the premise of Tell No Lies.

Gregg Hurwitz does not disappoint in this thriller. The writing is great, the tension merciless, and the characters throb with life. I sometimes find Hurwitz’s books almost more suspenseful than I can handle. And yet I keep coming back.

I might mention that there are political themes in Tell No Lies, but they’re handled right. Both conservatives and liberals get held up to scrutiny and are generally found wanting. The author is looking for a deeper truth here than mere party slogans.

Highly recommended. Cautions for language and violence.

‘Troubleshooter,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Troubleshooter

Accustomed to full-bore ART kick-ins requiring heavy firepower Guerrera didn’t handle his Beretta with the same facility he did an MP5. Tim caught him holding the handgun up by his head and gestured for him to straight-arm it or keep it in a belt tuck. The Starsky & Hutch position was good solely for catching a closeup of an actor’s face in the same frame as the gun; in real life a startle reaction to a sudden threat would leave an officer momentarily deaf and blind, or with half his face blown off.

Tim Rackley is back in Troubleshooter, Gregg Hurwitz’ third book in his series starring a Los Angeles US Deputy Marshal who screwed up seriously in the first installment, but has been reinstated through what was a pretty blatant case of authorial deus ex machina. But who cares? The stories are great, and Troubleshooter doesn’t disappoint.

Outlaw biker gang members usually just keep their mouths shut and do their time when caught. They don’t generally mess with cops. But the Laughing Sinners, a local gang, is changing the game. First of all, they killed a couple cops. Then they carried out a meticulous, brilliantly timed rescue, killing some more cops in the process. Now it’s open war between the bikers and several police agencies, including the marshals and the FBI. The bikers are going all out, in a scheme that involves drug dealing and terrorism on a scale unseen in this country since 9/11.

And meanwhile, Tim Rackley himself is working under the threat of a terrible personal loss.

What can I say? Troubleshooter has all the virtues of Hurwitz’ other novels – sharp, professional prose, well-drawn characters, excruciating plot tension, big stakes. As always, some elements are implausible when considered coolly, but there’s little leisure for cool consideration in the midst of all this action.

Cautions for language, adult themes, and violence. Otherwise, highly recommended.

‘The Program,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Program

Before I say anything else, I think I should mention that all guys named Tim owe Gregg Hurwitz a debt of gratitude. The name “Tim” is not often found attached to tough-guy heroes, at least in our time. But Hurwitz has hung that neglected moniker on one of the most hard-core, two-fisted heroes since Clint Eastwood mothballed his serape.

In The Program, former Deputy US Marshal Tim Rackley is asked to extract the young-but-adult stepdaughter of a Hollywood producer from a secretive mind-control cult. It’s a tricky job, because the cult leader, though under suspicion, is not actually being investigated for any crime. Strongly mindful of his own murdered daughter, Tim takes up the challenge. He assumes a false identity and goes undercover, relying on his military training in resisting brainwashing to keep his head on straight. It turns out to be a bigger challenge than he expected – “TD,” the leader of the cult, is a brilliant and manipulative man who latches on to Tim in particular as a potential collaborator in empire building. Repeated escalating setbacks for the good guys set up, first of all, a hilarious scene where Tim and some allies disrupt an informational meeting, and then a heart-in-your throat rescue attempt. Tim also finds plenty of opportunity to exercise his high pain threshold.

I’m always most impressed by the character portrayals in stories, and The Program excelled in this area too. One character in particular, who started out looking like a stereotype, displayed hidden depths once the chips were down.

The Program is another home run for Gregg Hurwitz, in my opinion. Cautions for language, sexual situations, and violence. Certain clues suggest that the author leans left politically, but he doesn’t rub it in our faces, which is all I ask. Highly recommended.

‘The Kill Clause,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Kill Clause

A book about vigilantes is no novelty. And the broad story arc of Gregg Hurwitz’s The Kill Clause is entirely predictable. The magic is in the… execution.

Tim Rackley is a decorated Deputy US Marshall, former military. When his only child, a little girl, is kidnapped, raped, and murdered, and the killer gets let off on a technicality, something dies inside him. He is approached by a representative of a secret group, “The Commission.” Their high-sounding mission is to find people clearly guilty of terrible crimes, who have been released by the courts. They will “execute” them in a fair, just manner. Tim’s job is to carry out the executions.

But his integrity and compassion are too great to work long that way. As the Commission comes apart and two dangerous members go rogue, Tim learns terrible secrets about his own tragedy. He finds himself racing against time to protect the very men he had planned to kill – including the killer of his daughter.

The conclusion of the book is a masterpiece of irony.

Gregg Hurwitz is a big writer, with a screenwriter’s sensibilities. That means high drama, high tension – and a certain level of improbability in the plot. What makes The Kill Clause work so well is the treatment of the characters – even the most repellant of them have their private stories, which are treated with empathy and respect. And the depiction of Tim’s grieving process (and his wife’s) is moving.

Cautions for language, violence, and mature themes. Otherwise, highly recommended.

‘The Nowhere Man,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Nowhere Man

Evan struggled to find the words. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been out in the cold, nose up to the glass, looking in. I may not get to come inside…. But I’m sure as h*ll not gonna let the wolves in at everyone else. No. That’s one thing I’m good for.”

This is the second book in the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz. In The Nowhere Man, Evan Smoak, former secret government assassin, present-day free-lance rescuer, continues his strange career. He saves people’s lives pro bono, generally by killing someone who can be stopped in no other way. But this book takes the story in a new direction. Someone very, very good at surveillance and special ops manages to capture him. It’s just business, as his captor has noticed Evan’s elaborate, high-security online financial activities. He wants Evan to transfer a large amount of money to him, on pain of torture. But he gradually realizes that Evan is a different kind of target than any he’s ever dealt with, and he decides to put his very life on auction.

I found the tension almost unbearably high in this one, as I’ve always found stories about imprisonment and escape emotionally difficult. Evan’s challenges rise to the level of the existential, as he comes to the end of his (considerable) personal resources, and reaches the point where he needs the help of others, something very hard for him to accept.

Once again, I found this Orphan X book riveting, and I highly admired the author’s skill at cranking up the tension while turning out superior prose. The depth of the characterization gives the book substantial weight. The plot is sometimes a little implausible, but we’re treading the borderline between novel and comic book here, so I just went with the ride. And an exciting one it was.

Cautions for language, violence, and adult situations. I also ought to mention that Evan practices transcendental meditation, which I don’t care for. But all in all, this is about as much quality entertainment for your book-buying dollar as you’re going to find anywhere.

‘Orphan X,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Orphan X

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book.

Evan Smoak, hero of Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz, does not officially exist. As a young boy he was taken (voluntarily) from a group home for orphans, to join a secretive US intelligence team. Members of the Orphan Program are highly skilled agents and assassins, entirely deniable and expendable in case of capture. Evan was raised in near-isolation by his handler, Jake Johns, a good man who taught him not only tradecraft, but human values as well. He instilled in Evan his own Ten Commandments, rules of operation by which he has lived ever since.

But around the time he was thirty, Evan decided to come in from the cold. He left the program, at great personal cost. Now he’s a kind of freelance hero. When he helps someone out of a life-and-death situation, he tells them to give his phone number to one other person, and only one. This keeps his work from becoming overwhelming.

But when he gets a call from a woman in debt to the Las Vegas mob, whose father is being held hostage until she pays up, and then shortly after is contacted by another “client,” he knows his system has been compromised. Someone with skills similar to his own is hunting him. Who should he trust? How can he be sure who really needs his help?

And what should he do about his neighbor, a single mother, to whom he’s attracted? Particularly considering the fact that she works in the District Attorney’s office?

Gradually, he starts to break Jack’s Ten Commandments, one after another.

One can’t help thinking of a cross between Jason Bourne and Batman here. But Orphan X digs deeper, uncovering layers of dysfunction and contradiction in the personality of a man who lives to do good, but doesn’t know how to relate to other human beings. When I was a kid, I used to watch TV Westerns, in which the heroes often seemed to travel from place to place with no other occupation than Righting Wrongs. When I got older, I began to wonder how they paid the bills (for the record, The Lone Ranger, at least, owned a silver mine). But there’s a deeper question – where does the hero go to meet his own emotional needs? Is he really a good man if he doesn’t dare – or know how – to love?

Orphan X is the first book of a series that I eagerly anticipate following. There’s one sequel to date, which I’ll review soon. Aside from the exciting (sometimes improbable) plot and vivid characters, the writing here is top notch. Cautions for language, violence, and mature themes. Highly recommended otherwise.