Killer Instinct (2006) by Joseph Finder is exactly one of those books I never pick up. A title like a Van Damme movie combines with vague and ominous cover art to make the perfectly generic airport thriller.
As far as the plot goes, Killer Instinct is similarly generic - a nice guy gets a leg up at his corporate job from a new friend. Then it all goes horribly wrong, as that friend is a nutjob and will kill everyone. Who could have predicted that trusting your wife/life/company to a nutball dishonorably-discharged Special Forces operative was a bad idea?
There's no question that the idea is hackneyed. And trite. And predictable. But... and may the god of crap fiction have mercy on my soul... this book was damn hard to put down.
First, Finder knows how to keep a plot moving. Despite the bulky 470+ pages to Killer Instinct, there's never a dull moment. From office politics to softball games to running-around-in-an-abandoned-building-at-night, Killer Instinct is cover-to-cover engagement. It isn't episodic, either. From start to finish, Finder has actually written a single cohesive story out of this ludicrous set-up.
Tube journeys: 4
Second, the lead character, Jason Steadman, is a pretty easy guy to like. He's not perfect - indeed, the book is littered with his dubious choices and the consequences thereof - but he's a nice, understandable fellow. Easy to empathise with. Indeed, Steadman's one claim to fame (as he states himself) is that he's a damn good salesman. If the character were anything less than 100% likeable, the whole house of cards would collapse. Granted, Steadman is clearly meant to be a wish-fulfillment analogue for white-collar escapists like me. But, to give the author credit, it works.
Third, and finally, the little trappings of the book are a blast. Steadman's reliance on self-help tapes and cheesy inspiration wall-art. The wild cast of useless characters in Steadman's office - almost (but not quite) reminiscent of one of George Pelecanos' electronics' shops. The thousands of horrible ways in which Kurt seems perfect (good softball player, can do DIY, doesn't drink...) - making it almost a relief when he turns out to be a psychopath.
Even if you're not stuck in an airport, you could do a lot worse than Killer Instinct. It is a pacy, entertaining thriller that, if shamelessly predictable, is still a lot of fun.
Tube journeys: 4