Dana Haynes has had some extensive experience in the world of writing, not only as a newspaper journalist but also as the author (under the name Conrad Haynes) of traditional mysteries. The Portland, Oregon native, who does double occupational duty as the Manager of Public Affairs for Portland Community College, has now turned his considerable literary skills to the thriller genre. CRASHERS is a sterling example of how the job of thriller writing is truly and properly executed.
If CRASHERS came with an instruction manual, the first step would be this: open mouth, insert heart. I never really knew what that term meant until I read the opening pages, wherein a commercial jetliner experiences a catastrophic engine failure over Oregon to disastrous effect, lessened somewhat by the heroic, if ultimately futile, efforts of the flight crew. The remainder of the book then proceeds along two plotlines. One concerns the dastardly act that caused the plane to crash and the lead-up to what is intended to be an even more disastrous event. The other is the painstaking investigation into what caused the initial crash.
This introduces an unusual team headed up, albeit reluctantly, by Dr. Leonard “Tommy” Tomzak. A former employee of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the highly-regarded Tomzak had resigned from the agency following a crash investigation that went wrong. Though initially an unwilling participant in the investigation of the Oregon crash, Tomzak soon demonstrates his expertise not only in preserving the crash site but also in connecting a seemingly endless and random series of evidentiary dots.
Dennis Silverman, the evil but brilliant engineer who caused the crash to occur, has inserted himself into the investigation, practically at Tomzak’s shoulder. For Silverman, the incident is merely a demonstration of his genius for a group of terrorists who have a target of even greater significance in mind. When the FBI gets wind of a possible connection, a race against time begins with the future of at least two nations at stake.
Meanwhile, a beautiful woman named Daria Gibron has managed, in a daring but maverick move, to infiltrate the terrorist cell. Gibron, an ex-Mossad agent, may be the last best hope of the FBI to prevent a tragedy that seems almost certain to take place. As a violent vignette is played out against the backdrop of a California desert, a disparate group of smart and dangerous characters move at cross purposes to either carry out or protect against a dastardly plot to change the world as we know it.
CRASHERS is a big book that moves like a rocket from the start. Think of it as a gallon of ice water waiting for you at the end of a hot and humid summer day: you won’t be able to take it in quickly enough. Haynes takes one disaster and another in the making, puts a quietly likable hero and a lovably dangerous secret agent in their path, adds a poisonous viper (or two) lurking quietly in the woodbox, and just for screams and grins include a nail-biting “Tom and Jerry” denouement. That, my friends, is CRASHERS. Save a slot for it on your list of the best books of 2010. It is so addictive a read that it should be classified as a controlled substance. And if it leaves you wanting more (which it certainly will), be of good cheer: Haynes is working on a sequel.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 3, 2011