Monday, August 24, 2009

“American Outrage”, by Tim Green (Sphere)


Muck-Raking Journalism, Adoption, Political Corruption, and Old Money collide

Jake Carlson, a top TV journalist feeling his star wane, is asked by his adopted son to find his birth-mother. Still suffering from the death of his wife, Jake agrees to help Sam in the hope that it will help his son get closure, or help him cope with the death of his adopted mother (he’s been acting out in school, forced to see an “asshole” therapist).

Working for American Outrage, a show that rakes through the dirt and grime of American society (celebrities with a dollop of Jerry Springer, it seems), has given Jake many skills he’ll need to wade through the bureaucratic tides of information and roadblocks that are thrown up against him. But, Jake is stunned by what he unearths: an international crime syndicate, an illegal international adoption ring, and the corrupt-politician-patriarch of an old New York financial dynasty.

What first seemed like a simple task to help his son move on becomes a potential, career-defining scoop. However, as Jake digs deeper, taking his investigation further, those he is investigating start coming after him and Sam – the Armenian mob, the FBI, and on top of that, other journalists start sniffing around, hounding Jake and Sam for their story as well.

Considering Green’s position as a bestseller many times over, I have to admit to expecting a little more from American Outrage. It’s the first novel of Green’s that I’ve ever read, and I was hoping for something better. This is not to say that this is a bad novel – far from it, as there is plenty in here to interest and engage your every-day thriller fan. But, there was still something definitely missing; a certain x-factor to take it to the next level.

Green’s plotting and prose are fine, frequently well-paced, but there was something about the novel that failed to really hook me in. Perhaps it was the relationship between Jake and Sam – it didn’t feel like father-and-son, brothers, or friends, really. There was just something strange about the way their relationship had been written – forced, awkward to read, and just a little too strange for me to believe. Sam is also a weird kid. This was a serious pity; as I’ve mentioned, the premise and plotting is pretty good. What is interesting, however, are the dilemmas Jake faces when he uncovers information about Sam’s adoption – how much should he tell his son? How much should he know?

The story picks up about halfway through and you do get more involved in the events as the book progresses (the first half was just too slow and clunky), with some intense scenes, but it felt par-for-the-course and didn’t quite sizzle as much as some of the pull quotes would have us believe (they should always be taken with a pinch of salt, anyway).

I will admit to perhaps just not being in the right mood for this book when I read it, but having read many thrillers this one just didn’t live up to my expectations. I have another Green novel – his latest, Above the Law – which I shall read in the next few weeks, and hopefully that will make up for this slight disappointment. I shall keep you posted.

Once again, there is a good deal to recommend this novel – the plot, premise, writing, etc. – but for me the delivery was just missing something, even though it was still an enjoyable read in many places.

American Outrage has a few twists, some shocking moments (the lives of important characters are not always safe), and a second half that really picks up the pace and ratchets up the intensity – if you are patient and make it through the slightly plodding first half, you will be rewarded.

A cautious recommendation.

For fans of: Jason Pinter, Peter de Jonge, James Patterson, Nelson DeMille

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