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06.24.09

A Hero for Klutzes

Gregg Hurwitz is the best thriller writer you’ve never heard of, and the protagonist of his new novel, Trust No One, is one rarely seen: a consummate everyman who bungles, misfires and flubs.

Gregg Hurwitz is the best thriller writer you’ve never heard of, and the protagonist of his new novel, Trust No One, is one rarely seen: a consummate everyman who bungles, misfires, and flubs.

One of the best thriller writers working today is someone whose name you probably don’t even know. Gregg Hurwitz, the author of 2007’s outstanding The Crime Writer, counts critics, a cult following, and other thriller writers as his biggest fans. But he hasn’t yet broken out to a mass audience and earned the kind of widespread success his talent deserves. Hopefully that will change with his new book, Trust No One—not only his best yet, but one of the best thrillers of the year so far.

The story begins with a killer of an opening scene. Average joe Nick Horrigan is living a quiet, boring life in Los Angeles until one night when a battalion of men in black body armor rappel down the side of his condo building and burst through his window. A terrorist is threatening to blow up a nuclear power plant and the only person he’ll talk to is Nick. So the Secret Service snatches Nick, trusses him up like a Christmas goose and throws him into one of those infamous black helicopters.

Nick is an especially interesting creation: a thriller protagonist who, most of the time, doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

Even after the situation at the power plant is diffused, Nick’s troubles are just beginning. It turns out that the terrorist—who might not have been a terrorist at all—knew Nick’s beloved stepfather, Frank Durant, a Secret Service agent who was murdered 17 years earlier. Nick blamed himself for his stepfather’s death and, fearing for his mother’s safety, ran away for many years before finally returning to Los Angeles. Now, at age 34, he’s finally started putting his life back together, only to have the ghosts of his past return to haunt him once again.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal too many of the details of Trust No One. But it won’t spoil anything to say that the conspiracy Nick finds himself caught up in involves the upcoming presidential election, a nasty battle being fought between the incumbent, President Andrew Bilton, and his challenger, Senator Jasper Carruthers, a man whom Nick’s stepfather, Frank, once protected.

trust-no-one-book-cover
Trust No One. By Gregg Hurwitz. St. Martin’s Press, 352 pages, $24.95. ()

Trust No One moves at death-defying speed, but Hurwitz still manages to layer depth and nuance onto his characters. Nick is an especially interesting creation: a thriller protagonist who, most of the time, doesn’t really know what he’s doing, makes mistakes and trusts the wrong people. Those very human qualities make the tension in the plot all the greater.

Long-buried secrets, corrupt politicians and intricate coverups have been the building blocks of many thrillers over the years, but Hurwitz makes them work in Trust No One by putting his own spin on them. He keep things fresh with the book’s contemporary vibe, and paints the story’s characters in shifting shades of gray, with the reader never quite sure how much distance separates the good guys from the bad. That’s not to say he’s reinventing the wheel—there are some areas where experienced thriller readers will see where the plot is heading before Nick does—but Hurwitz’s hairpin plot twists keep the ground shifting enough to throw the reader blissfully off balance.

Trust No One has action and suspense and all the good stuff readers look for in a thriller, but it also has smarts. Hurwitz clearly put a lot of thought into crafting his plot, and it pays off with a story that is satisfying on both a cerebral and visceral level. It combines the sharp political twists of a book like Robert Ludlum’s The Chancellor Manuscript or James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor with the white-knuckle pacing of a Joseph Finder thriller. That makes for a very potent combination.

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David J. Montgomery is a critic for The Daily Beast and has written about authors and books for many of the country's largest newspapers.