Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Killer Instinct" by Joseph Finder

Jason Steadman is a sales manager at Entronics, a multi-media software company along the lines of, say, Panavision, who organise contracts to provide their product to an organisation. He's happy doing what he does, but his wife Kate thinks they are falling into a bit of a rut, and wonders why he isn't a little more ambitious. After all, they are supposed to be starting a family.

About the same time as Kate starts pushing him to get up and go, Jason meets a tow truck driver who just happens to be an ex-Special Forces officer. Kurt Semko got a dishonourable discharge, but after helping Jason out, the two strike up a friendship. Jason invites him to take part in a company baseball game, which results in their team finally winning. It soon progresses to Jason helping Kurt get a nice job in security at Entronics.

Kurt believes in repaying favours. So much so that all of sudden Jason finds himself the recipient of extremely good fortune, while others around him fall victim to major bad luck. Jason gets the promotion he is after and his life improves dramatically, but he eventually suspects that Kurt is being not just underhanded - but decidedly ruthless - in ensuring his success. In fact, could Kurt even be committing murder. When Jason tries to put a stop to things, his new best friend becomes his worst enemy.

A solid plot and an engaging lead character help "Killer Instict" deliver the goods. The reader is with Jason Steadman every step of the way, as he tries to navigate his way through a cut-throat corporate world that is out of step with his general nice-guy persona. The suspense begins to build as you wonder just how far Kurt is going to ensure that Jason lands his deals and secures the promotions he is after. Kurt actually comes across as a likeable guy. Who wouldn't want somebody like that in their corner, guiding you to the outcomes you want to achieve? However, Jason isn't too comfortable with some of Kurt's tactics, and his outright horrified when he suspects Kurt has committed murder.

The main problem with "Killer Instinct" is that is eventually reaches a state of static. Another bad thing happens that benefits Jason. And another. And another. Kurt is obviously behind it. This holding pattern is kept in place far too long and the suspense that was previously generated eventually dissipates. There is an okay plot twist at the end, but the climax is underwhelming. This one should have been ratcheting up the tension and surprises, but never quite gets there. Beyond this, a proper explanation as to how Kurt gathers his intel is never adequately provided, nor a tangible motive as to why he goes to such lengths to repay a favour. It's possible there's some corporate-world parable at play here, but it hasn't translated into a fully gripping thriller.

All in all, it's worth the reader's time, if purely for the strong characterisation and initially intriguing plot.

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