by James Siegel

An actuary, according to my handy-dandy Merriam-Webster dictionary,
is "one who calculates insurance and annuity premiums, reserves,
and dividends." Actually, a friend of mine who frequently gives
legal seminars is fond of beginning such mind-numbing exercises by
defining an actuary as "an accountant who doesn't have the force of
personality to become a CPA." Lots of nasty things happen to an
actuary in DETOUR, the new James Siegel novel, and that definition
is the least of them, believe me.

Paul Breidbart is the actuary; he and his wife, Joanna, want
nothing more than to have a child. They have been trying to
conceive for years, without success. When they open their hearts to
the possibility of adoption they find that the quickest way to be
matched with a child is to travel to Colombia. Travel --- and life
--- in Colombia is fraught with danger, yet everything happens on
schedule. They receive a baby girl who is perfect in every way. The
adoption proceeds without any problem. That is, until the
Breidbarts leave their new infant daughter alone for a few hours
with their new nanny.

When they return, they slowly but inexorably come to realize that
they now have a different child. And, indeed, their baby has been
switched. They can still get their newly adopted daughter back. All
Paul has to do is smuggle, or in the vernacular, "mule," two
million dollars worth of cocaine from Colombia to Jersey City. He
delivers the cocaine (within a narrow time limit, of course), a
telephone call is made, and his wife and their new daughter get to
leave Colombia and fly home.

Paul, of course, is way outside of his element. The only things he
is used to pushing are pencils and papers. He somehow makes it to
Jersey City on time. It appears, however, that someone is
determined that the cocaine Paul is carrying is not going to make
it to where it is supposed to go, and the fates of Paul's wife and
daughter are of no consequence. Paul finds himself in a nightmare
scenario where he must not only keep himself alive but also must
bring his wife and daughter home as well. Joanna's chances for
survival, however, are even more tenuous than Paul's --- and her
captors are growing increasingly impatient.

Siegel's narrative ability is first-rate. The sentences fly right
off the pages as the they keep turning, revealing surprise after
surprise. I gave up trying to figure out what would happen after
the first 60 pages or so, and it was just as well. Siegel also
pulls off the neat trick of introducing a major, captivating
character --- always difficult to do --- in the last fourth or so
of the novel, and saves the best surprise for the last three pages.
DETOUR is one novel you'll want to finish without coming up for


Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010

by James Siegel

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446617067
  • ISBN-13: 9780446617062