So it’s Father’s Day, and my wife and younger daughter ask me what I want to do. My response? “I want to finish reading YOU’RE NEXT.” And that’s what I did. The book is pitch-perfect from beginning to end, a wild summer night’s ride that starts with a tragic event and concludes with a pair of climaxes --- one cataclysmic and the other heart-rending --- with a bunch of heart-stopping scenarios along the way.
"The book is pitch-perfect from beginning to end, a wild summer night’s ride that starts with a tragic event and concludes with a pair of climaxes --- one cataclysmic and the other heart-rending --- with a bunch of heart-stopping scenarios along the way."
Here’s how smart this novel is. One of the staple plots for many excellent thrillers is the sudden disappearance of a child. After all, can you imagine anything more terrifying? What Hurwitz does is take that plot and turn it inside out. In YOU’RE NEXT, it’s the parents who disappear, leaving behind a four-year-old boy named Michael, who is bothered and bewildered when his father pulls up to a school parking lot and drops him off with the clothes on his back and a tearful wave goodbye. All Michael knows is his first name; his last name, hometown and street address are unknown.
Michael all too quickly finds himself in foster care, moving through the system and almost getting stuck in it. Throughout the years, he manages to right himself through a combination of hard work, right choices, tough decisions, and, perhaps most importantly, the kindness of a stranger who had ample reason to be anything but kind. Michael --- now known as Mike Wingate --- marries Annabel, the woman of his dreams. In due order they have a daughter named Kat, who, as things get rolling in the book, is eight years old and almost too precocious for her own good. They are also busy sinking time, money, the whole nine yards into a revolutionary construction project that will make or break them.
Just as all of their hard work is about to pay off, Mike discovers a problem and is faced with a dilemma: he can either cover it up and make things worse, or he can reveal it and make things worse. He chooses to cover it up. Almost immediately, he finds that a couple of truly dangerous individuals named William and Dodge are interjecting themselves into his life, showing up at inappropriate times, making vague threats against him and Kat, and generally turning his life upside down. What the reader knows, and Mike doesn’t, is that William and Dodge are functioning on a level that most people don’t even want to think about, in an ugly and twisted place from which decent folks instinctively turn away. What exacerbates the situation is that the police aren’t taking Mike seriously.
Mike initially thinks that it might be connected to his construction project, which is why he is surprised and shocked to learn that the answer to why he is being targeted lies in something that occurred decades ago, when a father tearfully dropped off his puzzled little boy at a school playground and never returned. Mike knows he is out of his league against William and Dodge, so he reaches back into his own past and contacts a long-ago friend from his foster home, someone he left behind when his life began taking on the appearance of normalcy. Before things are settled, though, tragedy strikes, and Mike has to reach deep inside himself and turn away from those who matter most to him if he has any chance at all of saving them.
Warning: there are parts of YOU’RE NEXT that will frighten you badly. I’ve had nightmares from it for two nights running, and I’m the type of guy who watches the Hostel movies while eating barbecue. Also, you will not let anything get between you and the end of the book. It’s full of action and suspense, and stuffed with a great mystery as well, though at heart it’s about friendship, loyalty, keeping promises, and --- most of all --- parenthood. But before you start reading, please get a cardiac examination first.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 5, 2011