Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Fear" by Jeff Abbott

Miles Kendrick is a mob informant currently in Witness Protection, haunted by scattered memories in which he believes he shot and killed his best friend Andy in an FBI sting. He suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and keeps seeing Andy's ghost wherever he goes. His life only gets more complicated when he receives a mysterious note from his psychiatrist, Dr. Allison Vance, requesting his help, and asking him to meet her.

Before he can, Allison is killed by a bomb planted in her office. Miles vows to uncover the reasons behind her death, and soon has all manner of shady characters on his tail. Chief among them is former FBI agent Dennis Groote, and the mysterious James Sorenson. Miles discovers that Allison visited the home of former reality TV star Celeste Brent and borrowed her computer. When he meets up with Celeste, they discover she uploaded secret files to a hidden server. These files relate to a wonder drug called Frost, not yet approved by the FDA, which can cure PTSD.

Frost has a sketchy development history, and it appears it is currently being illegally tested. Miles and Celeste are soon joined by young Iraq vet Nathan Ruiz, an unstable young man who has undergone extensive testing. They must figure out the motives of the various dangerous people who are chasing them.

From an action standpoint, Fear is a solid example of the genre. The plot zips by, with one confrontation or chase after another. Unfortunately, action sequences need a solid context to exist within, and Fear is way too convoluted to ultimately succeed.

First and foremost, Miles Kendrick only gets himself into the mess because he feels it is his duty to avenge Allison, as he "failed to do right by her". Huh? He didn't even trust her enough to reveal his full history. Now he's fiercely determined to risk life and limb over her memory. His continued anguish over Andy, of which everybody can clearly see he shouldn't feel guilty about, sends his character veering dangerously close to martyrdom. Plus, for a PTSD sufferer who is constantly visited by the vision of his dead friend, he's awfully clear-headed when the need arises to get out of a difficult situation.

Secondly, we have the character of Dennis Groote. He's gone a bit mad in his quest for vengeance over the death of his wife, which consequenly caused his daughter Amanda to also suffer severe PTSD. Several chapters are needed to constantly explain away why Groote is even in the story. He blindingly accepts Frost's validity in curing his daughter. Doesn't ask a single question. He tangentially connects Miles to the people who murdered his wife. He thinks one person is doing one thing. He thinks another person is doing another thing. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of what exactly his current motiviation is.

This back and forth over motivation eventually extends to the rest of the novel as it gets more-and-more convoluted as more players with their own motivations are introduced. Proceedings get further murkier trying to figure out who wants to do what to whom, and whether the theories or motives expressed by characters are fact or speculation. Basically, by the end of the novel, it's all a bit of a mess.

I really liked the character of Nathan Ruiz. I actually found his fidgety, snappy manner quite humourous, though it will undoubtedly annoy others. His unpredictable nature was one of the more successful subplots to be found here. He also came across as a more believable sufferer of PTSD.

I read and really enjoyed Abbott's novel Panic. This outing isn't boring, with the action sequences all perfectly handled and realised. But I prefer my action to be grounded in a more coherent plot. Fear would make a heck of a movie (provided the screenwriter can have it make a little more sense). I will certainly be picking up further novels by Abbott, as it is fun to read a book focused on action and excitement as opposed to dry police procedural.

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