Robert Crais is a rare breed on the bestseller list - a writer for whom success is a catalyst to make himself better, rather than to settle into a marketing department-driven, money-making groove because he knows his brand name is established.
By continuing to get better, and not just be satisfied with being the alternative for private eye fans who have gotten tired of Robert B. Parker's smugness, Crais has become one of suspense fiction's elite. He has transcended his genre and become a fine American novelist.
"Hostage," Crais ' new tense thriller, is an update of the Joseph Hayes classic, "The Desperate Hours," as a trio of thugs on the run take a suburban family hostage.
But that's not even half the story. The two loser brothers who are fleeing after a convenience store robbery escalates into murder, unknowingly have a psychotic partner. Even worse, the house they have chosen for their shelter is the home of the accountant for a Mob boss.
Jeff Talley is the police chief of the small southern California town of Bristo Bay, where this drama plays out. A complete burn-out, Talley was an SWAT negotiator for the Los Angeles Police Department who was badly fooled by a gunman, leading to the death of a child. Leaving his wife and daughter in L.A., Talley has taken refuge in a place where vandalism is about as intense as crime gets.
Talley thinks his worst nightmare has come true - he is once again in the middle of a high-profile hostage case. But things are about to get worse, a lot worse.
The Mob boss isn't wild about cops storming a house that contains enough evidence to put him - and his boss - away for life. He kidnaps Talley's wife and daughter to use as hostages and makes Talley's recovery of crucial evidence from the house the price of their release.
Of course, Talley's first priority is his own family, but he's not so cold-blooded that he's willing to allow the murder of another man's children in front of him. Especially after the seemingly snotty but unexpectedly resourceful 10 year-old boy trapped in the house finds a way to make contact with him and aid in Talley's plan.
Crais keeps his plot from becoming too far fetched with authentic procedure, believable characters, good dialogue, and a sense that yes, this is how real people might act if put in this incredible situation.
If it's true that a good thriller needs a well-crafted bad guy to succeed, "Hostage" has an embarrassment of riches, with no less than a half-dozen memorable villains and a few more characters who inhabit gray areas.
The best thing about the characters is that we don't have them all figured out the minute we meet them. Some we don't immediately cotton to will rise to the occasion, while others who seem to be cut out for heroic deeds will fail miserably. That unpredictability - though Talley's own redemption seems inevitable - adds immeasurably to the suspense level.
"Hostage" is a captivating thriller of the highest order, and it will hold your attention hostage until the last page is turned. Once you start the last half of this book, no one will be able to negotiate any interruptions with you except perhaps at gunpoint.