Perhaps no thriller writer captures our uneasy and dangerous times like Andrew Klavan. He combines the social observation of Tom Wolfe with the relentless narrative drive and pinpoint characterization of Colin Harrison into an unsettling—yet thoroughly rewarding—reading experience.
While Klavan has always been a captivating suspense writer (I confess that once as a salesman on the road, I burned a whole afternoon because I started Don't Say a Word on my lunch hour and couldn't stop reading), he has really come into his own in the post 9/11 world of terror, big government and culture wars.
Klavan has two superb new novels out, and conveniently, there is one for both the adult and the younger reader on your Christmas list.
When I finished Klavan's last thriller, Empire of Lies, I remarked that I had never read anything quite like it. His latest, Identity Man, (Houghton Miflin Harcourt, $25.00) is so strikingly original, it makes Empire seem like it's from a template.
Klavan believes there is good and evil in the world—or at least he hopes there is good. His books usually feature unlikely heroes, pressed into service to fight evil. He takes this even farther in Identity Man, a slightly futuristic noir fable in which good and evil are all but characters in the plot.
Take a thief on the run framed for murders he didn't commit, given a new identity (face and all) by a mysterious benefactor, drop him in a flood and riot-ravaged thoroughly corrupt city, mix in a charismatic black politician being prepared for a messianic entrance on the national stage, a preacher who sees through the politician, a guilt-ridden cop willing to do anything to protect the politician's legend– and of course a good girl who falls for the anti-hero, (this one the widow of a war hero)—mix them all together and what do you get? Klavan's masterwork to date.
By using parallels to contemporary figures and events like the New Orleans flood and the rise of the Community Organizer in Chief, Klavan strikes a chord with current readers; but with its timeless themes, this book will survive for future generations of readers, as well.
Here is how the corrupt cop, Ramsey, ruminates on the politician, Augie Lancaster, and the rhetoric he used in his rise to power, in a passage worthy of Ralph Ellison:
All those times he had called these people his brothers. All those times he had told them that the white man was their enemy, that only he could save them — look! — in his dreams. All those beautiful speeches — City of Hope, City of Justice — spurring them on to this protest or that, to boycott a Jew store owner who had shot a neighborhood thief, or to picket a radio station where some DJ had made some racial crack, or to protest a white jury's verdict that had sent some black mad-dog to prison. All those times he had inspired them to bare their chests and display the scars of injustice, mobilizing them as an army of victims to blackmail another dollar out of the citadels of white guilt and fear. It was all good — all good for the king of the city kings, but for the brothers? Useless, meaningless diversions while their fatherless children [probably roamed the] streets in drooling coyote crews and their fatherless mothers smoked bone for crack cocaine which their fathers' fathers sold to them in the broken buildings that all the spangly gold from his fingertips somehow never did rebuild.
Fighting to save his city.
Sure. Because the journalists had their daydreams, too, the guilty white journalists made gullible by their desperate yearning for virtue…
Clocking in at a mere 280 pages, Identity Man is the kind of brisk, tight storytelling that the masters of suspense like Cornell Woolrich or John D. MacDonald used to write– before publishers got the idea they could charge more for a 400-plus page opus.
Identity Man is chock full of surprises, and it's hard to give a flavor of the book without giving too much away. I've said enough. Just read it.
The Truth of the Matter
Hands down, the best "young adult" series going right now is Klavan's Homelander collection. Aimed at the teen audience, they can best be described as a patriotic, generically Christian, mix of Memento, 24, and The Fugitive. It is the best young adult series to not feature magic, fantasy, or dead parents since Brains Benton. (Yes, that's what I said, not Hardy Boys, or The Three Investigators–look it up.)
The series stars high school senior Charlie West, a karate enthusiast with a goal to attend the Air Force Academy, who wakes up being tortured by homegrown Islamist terrorists with a year missing from his memory and no idea how he got into this situation.
The previous two books (which you simply must read before this one) have Charlie trying to piece the story together while on the run from both the terrorist group– the Homelanders– and the cops who think he murdered his best friend.
In volume three, The Truth of the Matter, (Nelson, $14.99) Charlie gets a lot of his answers, but they come to him in a most unpleasant and dangerous manner. He finally discovers how he got into this fine mess, and who his allies in the authorities might be. But once he gets his answers, what to do about it becomes an even tougher question…
Once again, Charlie is on the run, but Klavan has, so far, ingeniously kept the books from seeming all the same by revealing the back story at just the right pace, and by varying just who is closing in on him.
Saying too much about The Truth of the Matter would spoil three books, not just one, so I will leave it at that. Let's just say if you are tired of the usual wimpy, politically correct, and depressing worldview that seems to win Newberry Awards, then the Homelander series is the perfect antidote.
And after you read Klavan's fiction for grown-ups, and your kids have readHomelanders, check out this series for yourself. It's far more suspenseful than the "adult" fare being cranked out by hack bestselling brand names like James Patterson or David Baldacci.