Hostage, by Robert Crais

Jeff Talley is a SWAT FBI specialist, trained in hostage negotiation who's moved to work as a police chief in a quiet suburb after a job went bad and caused him to lose his nerve. One day a bunch of kids hold up a grocery store and shoot the owner; they make a run for it, breaking into a house in the hope of stealing a car. But there are people in the house, and they're taken hostage when cops appear. So Talley is called on to act, once again, as a negotiator. But there's more: unbeknownst to all at the scene, the house contains a load of the mob's financial records, and they're keen to get them back.

The summary of the setup is quite hard to condense, and there are quite a lot more twists and turns throughout the book. Which I think is the strength and weakness of it: there's almost too much plot. Sometimes when I go out for a bike ride, it's so enjoyable that I'll take an unfamiliar turn just to see where it goes, and prolong the ride. I had the feeling that Crais was doing a similar thing in this book: just as you felt that you had a handle on the story arc, he'd add another wrinkle and extend it a bit. All of these things were quite enjoyable but I think it could have done with a little bit of editing to make it tighter.

E.g. (spoiler) there was some plausible stuff about negotiation tactics (albeit in some cases a bit laboured) and it was interesting to see the techniques used by Talley to establish rapport with the kids in the house. As well as that, there's the thread of Talley's emotional journey, with the trauma that he suffered in the prologue haunting him as he tries to save the lives of the children being held hostage. Then on top of that we have the organised-crime thing. Then Talley's family is kidnapped. Then it turns out that one of the hostage-takers is a serial killer. All very readable but I don't think all entirely necessary.

In contrast to the Prey books (which this reminded me of, partly because it was read by the ever excellent Richard Ferrone), this was a bit too long and not really tight enough. It was very enjoyable, and I'd recommend it, but I'm sure it could have been even better.

By coincidence, they showed the film of this on TV in the same week I was reading it, so I watched that after finishing the book. In the film they'd removed some of the subplots altogether (I can't really see how they could have fitted all of it in anyway) and abbreviated others. I don't think the film was really worth watching.

Completed : 12-Sep-2008 (audiobook)

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