Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review: Hostage by Robert Crais

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A twist on the usual tale
Cons: That still devolves to cliches
The Bottom Line:
Nice initial twist
But the cliches make it weak
Not Crais' best

Interesting Twist to the Premise Ultimately Falls Flat

If you read mysteries at all, the name Robert Crais is probably at least on your radar thanks to his bestselling Elvis Cole mystery series.  He has written a few stand alones over the years, most noticeably Hostage.  This book was turned into a movie starring Bruce Willis.  I saw the movie a couple years ago and wasn't that impressed.  But I remembered hearing that the movie took out the best parts of the book.  Never being one to judge a book by its movie, I decided to give the book a try.

It's a hot Friday afternoon, and Dennis is bored.  With the choices of going to the movies or robbing a gas station with his brother Kevin and new friends Mars, he decides to rob the store before hitting the movie.  Unfortunately, things go incredibly wrong, the trio kills a man, and their car breaks down, forcing them to seek shelter in a nearby subdivision.  With the police right behind them, they are forced to take a man and his two kids hostage.

All this is a nightmare for Jeff Talley.  He's the chief of police in the small town where the trio has gone on their rampage.  He's a former LA hostage negotiator who retired after one job in particular went very wrong.  While nothing usually happens in the town of Bristo Camino, he's now forced to relive his former life.

Unfortunately for all involved, the man being held hostage has a secret of his own, a secret that is going to make this explosive situation much, much worse.  Will anyone survive the ciaos to come?

Now, it has been a couple years since I saw the movie, so I don't remember all the details, but as I was reading the book, I kept waiting for something to happen that I felt was new or original.  I'm still waiting.  Instead, I felt like this book is filled with cliches.  We've got overly familiar characters doing things by the book.

That's not to say that I didn't come to care for the characters.  I truly felt for the kids being held in the house.  Of the hostage takers, Kevin was by far the most sympathetic.  Mars, on the other hand, was one big cliche, and one we really didn't need in this over packed book.  And as overdone was Jeff Talley's hero cop character is, I did like him and want him to figure out a way to come out on top.

Once the big twist is worked into the story early on, the book doesn't take too many more surprising twists.  That's not to say that I wasn't captivated or entertained; I just wasn't that surprised by much of what happened.  The climax felt like a cop out, however.  I honestly couldn't believe that the characters involved in the final scene would do what they did.  In fact, I felt like Mr. Crais didn't know how to end the story, so he just wrapped it up quickly to move on to something else.

I did get a kick out of the setting of the book.  While the town is fictitious, it is set near where I live.  In fact, parts of my town were referenced on a regular basis.  It looks nothing like my town, but I still liked it.

The story is told from multiple points of view, and that really helps communicate the growing tension both inside and outside the house.  In fact, the writing is great all the way around, moving the story forward at a very quickly pace.  Not being fond of swear words, I was very put off by the almost constant use of them by many of the characters in the beginning of the story.  I always find it ironic that their use lessens as the story gets going, and the same was true here.

One of Robert Crais' diehard fans talks about Hostage dismissively as being Mr. Crais' attempt to write a movie that would become a blockbuster.  Considering this is his only book to be made into a movie, I would have to guess he was right.  Instead of being the fresh take on a familiar story, it sinks into all the predictable cliches, leaving me less than impressed.

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