Thrillers—who reads them and why?
At a recent dinner, talk turned from the still emotionally-raw subjects of Brexit and US Presidential Primary results to books people were reading. Most of the women said they were reading recent bestsellers. A few men mentioned damaged detectives while others talked about various conspiracy thrillers. “But the Cold War is over,” I said. “So what could be in the thrillers? Is there even an Evil Empire anymore (outside of Microsoft, of course)?” In an unofficial survey of our dining table, I gathered the following theories and observations:
- None of the women present said they usually read thrillers. All of the men did.
- People are looking for escape to a world where there are heroes who can be powerful, and where —if not black and white—those heroes are at least a lighter shade of gray than the evil, baby-candy-stealing, puppy-kicking Badder Guy. (Maybe the lighter-gray Not-As-Bad Guy just borrows the candy, and shoves the puppy out of the way…)
- Most men go to work each day, knowing there are workplace politics and events completely outside of their control which could crush them at any moment. They want to identify with the heroes in thrillers who are able to manipulate, motivate, or shoot their way to dominance and victory. Shooting is good.
- Men tend to read books by men (implication being that they are for men…) [note: according to a Goodreads survey, that’s actually true, and the same pretty much applies to women.]
Yasmine ‘Yaz’ Weeks would prefer to forget her troubled past and the vile crimes committed against her, but when she discovers a hidden memoir in a kidnapped girl’s cell phone, Yaz finds herself on the run with an opportunity for retribution. She soon learns that the memoir has the potential to ruin both the reputation of its late great author, Robert Cornish, as well as the reputations of many influential people.
Whip Billings, an ex-cop, unwittingly becomes entangled in the mystery of the missing phone. Realizing that this newfound memoir could significantly hurt the sales of Cornish’s classic novel, Force of Will, he begins to search for Yaz. But why are the cops, and a mysterious drug kingpin known only as The Viking, also looking for her?
In his quest to find Yaz, Whip uncovers a vast network of political corruption, long hidden family secrets, and a series of reprehensible crimes. As the bodies in town begin to pile up, Whip knows that he must track down Yaz before she also turns up dead.
My Review: 4 stars out of 5 for Need to Find You by Joe Souza
I’ve been trying to decide how to review this thriller from Joe Souza. One side of me wants to shout “Hell, YEAH!” and slap those five stars on. That side notes the nonstop action, kickass—if slightly Stieg Larsson-esqe—heroine (she’s even got a tattoo, although this one is an octopus), and completely damaged detective. I also loved the perfect cover, plus the equally-perfect and writerly-hilarious “quotes” from invented novelist Robert Cornish.
But, wait… says my other side, the recovering English Lit major. What about the body count that works out to roughly one corpse per two pages? What about the lack of character development, the way murders are substitutes for plot, the way readers are expected to politely suspend disbelief at the frankly bizarre motivation for everything being the ongoing royalties from a book by a long-dead writer. Even if it IS one of those books that “everybody reads” in high school—unless something comes to light that changes “everybody’s” mind about the author and the true meaning of the book.
Note: skip this slightly spoilery next bit if you don’t want to know anything going in…
I looked it up and To Kill a Mockingbird typically generates annual royalties of over $3 million. Granted, that’s a powerful motive for quite a lot of mayhem. But it’s not powerful enough to set aside a gigantic conspiracy controlled by the kingpin of a drug empire, a criminal mastermind whose nickname terrifies a generation. Sorry, but the giant suspension of disbelief required just isn’t making it for me. But if you CAN buy into that motivation, then the rest of the action seems at least inevitable if not quite reasonable…
Okay, back to our regularly-scheduled not-spoilery review…
That’s where the story starts, as a graduate student uncovers a long-concealed memoir of a dead but still famous writer. She’s used her phone to take pictures of the documents, and that phone becomes the MacGuffin driving the rest of the action. As she’s captured, the grad student throws the phone to her new friend, Yaz Weeks. A drummer in the fabulously-named girl band, The Kuntz (go ahead, say it out loud…), Yaz is also a survivor with a mission that includes revenge on the secretive criminal mastermind known as The Viking. She recognizes the monster pursuing her friend as one of The Viking’s lieutenants, and starts her own revenge program with a spectacular act that I’m sure has every male reader crossing his legs protectively.
Along with the phone-MacGuffin, author Joe Souza pays terrific homage to other beloved thriller tropes including:
- Anti-villain: like the anti-hero who may perform heroic deeds despite fundamentally non-heroic character or even goals, the anti-villain is nominally on the side of good, but their path to that goal embraces evil. Assistant Chief of Police Phil Haskins knows that he’s done everything right over the years, and been a good cop. All that slips when his child dies and he finds himself blackmailed by the secretive master criminal known as The Viking.
- Damaged psyche: After a dedicated police career, detective Whip Billings is betrayed in an undercover operation that goes disastrously wrong, succumbing to drug and alcohol addictions, and sent to the opposite coast to ‘recover’. Back for his mother’s funeral, he too dreams of revenge on the mysterious Viking.
- Nobody is all the way good or bad: In Thriller Land, everybody lies, everybody double-crosses, and everybody kills. The good guys are terribly flawed, and the baddies love their kids.
- My enemies are the only ones who understand me: In a world where you have to keep secrets from your lover, family, and friends, the only ones who actually understand you are your opposite numbers on the other side. Whip relates to the criminals he meets, but he can’t connect with the woman he loves.
- Don’t deserve love but I’ll take the next best thing: since everyone is damaged, a happily-ever-after is just not in the cards for anyone so one night hookups are the next best thing. Unfortunately for this story, it almost seems like author Joe Souza was going down the list of thriller tropes and slapped his forehead when he realized he forgot this bit. The result is one of the most uncomfortable, unconvincing sexual encounters ever, insulting to LGBTQ readers with its implications that sexual/gender preferences are fairly easily overcome by attractive partners who smell good.
- Bittersweet ending: Well, I can’t tell you about that (spoilers), but keep an eye out for the place where the title gets repeated just to make sure you get what the entire story is about…
So with those complaints balancing the terrific writing, pace, and dialog, I’m going to split the difference with four stars. This is a terrific action story full of flawed people, lots and lots of casual murder, and a tiny bittersweet ray of hope for the future.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Book Title: Need to Find You
Author: Joe Souza
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Length: 404 pages
Publisher: Kindle Press (March 15, 2016)
Contact and Buy Links:
Blog | Twitter: @josephsouza3