Veteran suspense writer Alton Gansky opens FINDER'S FEE with a chilling beginning, full of promise. Forty-five-year-old famous, successful businesswoman Judith Find seemingly has it all. Her company is her life, and she “developed emotional calluses long ago.” Judith’s husband has died, leaving her as head of the prosperous Find, Inc., a home decorating firm. But she won’t be in that position for long if her stepson Marlin has anything to do with it. Bitter and feeling as if his inheritance has been stolen, Marlin is working to dethrone her and seize control of the company himself.
Then, a frightening call threatens to change everything. “You know what you did… If you hang up he will die.” We don’t know what she did, nor do we know who “he” is. Judith knows what she did but doesn’t know the person who they are threatening to kill. All she has been given is a photo of a young boy with unbelievably lavender eyes, who presumably she must save. The readers’ desire to discover her secret and who the boy is (and what about those strange eyes?) keep the pages turning.
Judith’s path intersects with Luke Becker, a handsome 48-year-old stock market junkie who has also received a mysterious cell phone call --- and who harbors a secret of his own. “My biggest failing in life is that I haven’t been paranoid enough,” he tells Judith. Or, as the reader is told, “While some men might deny their neuroses, Luke embraced his.” Both are at the mercy of an unseen person, nicknamed “The Puppeteer,” who controls their every moves with phone calls, packages left at strategic locations and computerized instructions. They uncover a frightening genetic experiment that involves numerous children, including Abel, the small boy who becomes the focus of their search.
There are some nice passages throughout. Muses Judith, “Hundreds of people surrounded her… Any of them could be a saint and any one a killer… Everyone kept their thoughts, desires, and sins behind a mask of flesh. She knew this well. She did it every day.” Judith’s assistant, Terri, provides the faith notes in the book, whether it is inviting Judith to church or praying for her when she’s in trouble. Toward the end, faith plays a somewhat awkward but more important role.
Gansky sometimes details too much body mechanics (“Judith pulled her silver Lexus SC convertible into the first open parking stall she found, exited, and walked into the restaurant. It took several steps before she realized that she moved with her head down and eyes fixed on the concrete walk. She forced her head and eyes up, reached for the door, and walked into the unknown.”) This really slows the pacing down. However, he has some good, fresh lines (“Judith’s patience dissolved like sugar in hot water;” or “…it took off like a herd of turtles;” “Luke’s heart tapped like a drummer on caffeine”) and handles the point of view changes easily. I learned at least one new idiom (“soul patch,” I discovered after looking it up, is a tuft of hair under the lower lip), and another new vocabulary word, “impeller,” a part of a jet. He does have an unfortunate penchant for the word “burbling.”
Readers of one of Gansky’s earlier novels, THE PRODIGY, will recognize some echoes of the superchild, spiritually advanced protagonist (Abel is not the central character in this book, but he does play an important role). Although they’ll have to suspend disbelief toward the end, Gansky fans will enjoy this interesting and thought-provoking story of ethics, secrets and faith.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011