The differences between a good book and a great one are often subtle. Good books have well-rounded and realistic characters – but in a great one, they come alive on the page, taking shape as real, breathing and thinking people you feel as if you know. In a good story, you are entertained, your interest is piqued – but in a great one, you’re held captive, enthralled by a plot that you can no more forget than you can forget about eating and drinking.
Joseph Finder’s Suspicion is an example of a great book. It utilizes many of the familiar elements of the modern thriller novel – ordinary people in extraordinary situations, cliffhanger endings, high-tech gadgets, shifting POVs – but does so in an outstanding way, transforming the ordinary into something rare and wonderful.
The protagonist of Suspicion is a single dad named Danny Goodman. He’s a writer – he’s working on a big biography of industrialist Jay Gould and is way past his deadline – and like most writers, he’s not exactly flush with cash. His teenage daughter, Abby, goes to a fancy Boston private school, and they’ve got a school trip to Italy coming up. Danny doesn’t have the money to pay for it. What’s worse, he doesn’t have the money to cover the overdue tuition bill either. And his publisher is demanding he turn in his manuscript, or else they want their money back.
Suffice it to say, Danny’s in trouble. And that’s when Thomas Galvin enters his life. Galvin is one of the other parents at the school; the father of Abby’s new best friend. Galvin is rich. Not just regular rich either, but chauffeured Maybach rich. Private plane rich. So it’s no big deal for him to cover the cost of Abby’s trip to Italy. His daughter’s best friend has to go, too, right? And when Danny needs $50k to cover the tuition and credit card bills, who else is he going to ask?
Big mistake. Because Galvin is not the guy you want to ask for money. And he’s certainly not a guy you want to be indebted to. Galvin, you see, isn’t just a rich guy. He’s a rich guy who works for a Mexican drug cartel. And shortly after the fifty grand lands in Danny’s bank account, the DEA lands on his doorstep. They’ve been spying on Galvin for years, and now they want Danny’s help. If he refuses, the Feds will indict him as a co-conspirator – and the cartel will probably cut him into pieces with a chainsaw.
When you examine the component elements of Suspicion, there is nothing that leaps out at you and screams greatness. But it is in the way that Finder has assembled those elements, the way he tells his story, that truly sets it apart. The pieces of the puzzle all fit together seamlessly, more like a Bach prelude than the average thriller novel. The three-dimensional characters, the picture-perfect settings, the impeccable plotting, the white-knuckle suspense, everything works together in harmony.
Really, though, it’s no surprise that Suspicion is the best thriller I’ve read in years. Finder is a master of his art, perhaps the finest contemporary writer of suspense, and he’s been operating at a very high level for a long time. With Suspicion, we’re seeing the fruits of decades of labor, and it’s a joy to behold.
This review first appeared in Strand Magazine.