Monday, May 31, 2010

"One False Move" by Alex Kava

Melanie Starks and her son Charlie have got through life by being low-level con artists. When her brother Jared Barnett reappears in her life, they step into the big leagues with Jared's proposal of a bank robbery. He's been in jail for the last five years for rape and murder, but his shady lawyer Max Kramer has gotten him out on a technicality. It doesn't mean he's innocent, but Melanie is willing to trust him, while Charlie looks up at him as some sort of idol.

The bank robbery goes horribly wrong, with four people winding up dead. The crime spree continues as the three of them go on the run, eventually taking crime writer Andrew Kane hostage. On their trail is Detective Tommy Pakula, a friend of Andrew's and one of the original arresting officers of Jared Barnett. Helping out is district attorney Grace Wenninghoff, original prosecutor of Jared Barnett, who assumes that he's possibly stalking her.

"One False Move" gets off to an okay start, but pretty much falls apart by the end. Everybody's motives aren't entirely clear, and the climax is a joke. By the end, you're wondering what exactly the point of the whole thing was. Adding insult to injury is the "who cares?" minor twist that caps this underwhelming effort off. One main fault is the lack of a central character to anchor us in the story. The chapters flip between view-points so often that there is nobody for us to identify with. Andrew Kane is given a lame scared-of-commitment backstory, but it doesn't really make us care about him, even though he's the hostage and we're supposed to worry about his safety. But he's got a flat personality, plus it's never clear even why the trio bother to keep him around.

Grace Wenninghoff's chapters have her convinced that Jared Barnett is stalking her, since he keeps showing up wherever she goes, may have stolen one of her daughter's toys, and left a calling card in its place. However, it's hard to understand why this element was included in the novel. Jared Barnett is running from the law, so there is no suspense in wondering if he'll come back for Grace. Of course he won't. As for Melanie Stark, she's so wishy-washy and oblivious that she quickly becomes tiresome. Not great traits for a character you're supposed to also care about. Her son Charlie fares even worse. He's portrayed as some sort of innocent victim, but nobody's forcing him to commit all these crimes. He does it because he likes it. Detective Tommy Pakula is a good character, but is short-changed by all these varying view-points. And the book itself is seriously short, clocking in at only 300-odd pages, with large font, short chapters and five (count 'em - five!) parts.

"One False Move" lacks focus and energy. I never felt compelled to go back to it after finishing a chapter. Not a good thing to say about a story involving bank robberies, murder and hostages. Plot elements are raised and then never mentioned again (what was the deal with the ceramic gnomes again?). There's no build-up to any sort of exciting ending - it simply feels as if Kava had run out of ideas and interest and had to finish it as quickly as possible. Disappointing because it had the opportunity to be so much better.

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