Review

Killer Instinct

by Joseph Finder

Joseph Finder is wholly responsible for my latest bout of
literary-induced insomnia. KILLER INSTINCT, his newest (and to
date, his best) novel, is one of those books that for multiple
reasons turns the act of reading into an all-encompassing
obsession.

Jason Steadman, the focal point of KILLER INSTINCT, is in some ways
the 21st century version of the man in the gray flannel suit. He is
a successful sales manager for Entronics, selling plasma
televisions, flat-screen monitors and all sorts of wonderful and
indispensable toys. Steadman, however, has hit the ceiling as far
as promotion and salary are concerned, which bothers his wife.
Let's stop for just a minute here and note that Finder is a master
of subtlety. He shows us the cracks in the foundation of Steadman's
life, through Steadman's point of view, even as Steadman himself
remains blissfully unaware of them.

All of that changes, however, when Steadman's driver's multitasking
results in a car accident. Steadman is unhurt, but his automobile
becomes undrivable. The responding tow truck driver is a somewhat
taciturn gentleman who turns out to be Kurt Semko, an ex-Special
Forces guy who seems underemployed and adrift. Semko and Steadman
appear to have nothing in common --- Steadman is button-down though
relaxed, while Semko is one rough edge --- but Steadman, salesman
that he is, finds common ground with the man: they're both baseball
fans. Steadman is a member of the perennially-losing Entronics
softball team and invites Semko to play as a ringer.

Semko offers to do Steadman a favor that ultimately saves one of
Steadman's potential sales from going south. Impressed with Semko's
abilities, Steadman assists him in getting a job with Entronics in
corporate security. Steadman begins having a run of good luck while
things keep happening to his competitors, both inside and outside
the office. He is horrified though to learn that Semko is doing
more than occasionally gathering information for him; he's actually
running interference, taking the competition out, and incidentally
worming his way into every facet of Steadman's professional and
personal life. Steadman wants him to stop, but it's not that easy
to jump off the tiger, since the tiger --- more often than not ---
will turn on you. And turn he does, with cataclysmic results.

Finder is nothing less than a marvel. Besides being a thriller that
will keep you up all night, KILLER INSTINCT has all you need to
know about plasma television screens and LCD monitors so that the
next time you wander into Circuit City looking to upgrade your home
entertainment center, you'll know exactly what your salesperson is
talking about and appreciate how the model you're looking at got
into the store to begin with. You'll also notice all the television
screens that are sprouting up at supermarkets, airports, sports
arenas, etc. I could go on and on. But notwithstanding the
foregoing, the great joy of this novel is in Finder's telling,
which defines and sharpens the edges that so many other writers
tend to leave blurred and undefined.

At a little over the halfway mark Finder, through Steadman,
distinguishes between a film and a movie, distilling a perfect
description of the latter into a short sentence. Then there's a
vignette that takes place in one of those baby product superstores,
wherein Steadman describes the after-product of one of those diaper
disposal units in terms that alone are worth the price of the
novel. It's touches like those that make the characters you meet
believable. And it's those interludes that make the story's quiet
and gradual but inevitable downturn all the starker. It's like
walking into a china shop and seeing that all the display tables
are slightly but not precariously tilted, and then noticing a giant
bull in the corner quietly pawing the floor.

KILLER INSTINCT is a killer book, the great white of this summer's
thrillers. You'll never see a video screen or a tow truck without
thinking of it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Killer Instinct
by Joseph Finder

  • Publication Date: May 16, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312347472
  • ISBN-13: 9780312347475