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IRRESISTIBLE
By Ethan Black

Ballantine, May 2000, $24 (HC, 391 pp)

Reviewed by Anthony Neil Smith

The author of the hip BROKEN HEARTS CLUB returns with the next case for millionaire New York cop Voort, this time following his chase of a female serial killer, a very rare occurrence. I'm not giving anything away by telling you this--it's on the book jacket copy and first chapter. But, much like the other serial killer novels that have flooded the market after Thomas Harris's RED DRAGON and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the chase is the thing, with reader involved with both hunter and hunted, switching back and forth between their viewpoints.

You know the killer, so the question the reader is supposed to be interested in is "Why?" As in, what caused this person to kill? The contemporary twist--no one is responsible for his or her own crimes, but there's a deeper reason behind it.

In this case, Black keeps up the "hipness" factor in the writing, which to me is a move away from the slower pace of thrillers and an embrace of the high-tech world. It makes the prose go faster as well. I'm reminded of Jeffrey Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme novels, which use up-to-the minute crimefighting forensic science to stay five minutes behind serial killers who are out to break the world record for "Most Bodies Killed in One Night." A better example of the "hip" thriller is Douglas Winter's recent RUN, which finally drags the thriller kicking and screaming into the 21st century (which should've happened three years ago. We're behind!) But Black's writing and interesting spin on postmodern New York--the way the victims are linked is a great invention--makes IRRESISTIBLE a fine book to race through. For that type of sustained airplane or beach book reading pace, the breathlessness of this novel works nicely.

But Black isn't playing completely fair. There's a very traditional moral here that's spread on very thick. The characters are pawns in a grander scheme, each moving at the author's leisure instead of coming alive and surprising us. (Just count how many times the word "commitment" appears, and see if the thread holds). The author has something "big" to say here. I was willing to believe it was simply the lead detective's own way of viewing the world, which is fine, but everything around him is just too snug a fit. A bit too convenient. If it were as messy as the real world, I wouldn't have caught it as easily. So, despite the hipness, there's a traditional set of values underlying the book.

So breeze through it, enjoy the moment, see if you can guess ahead. Don't think about it much more than that, and you'll find it pretty good, but not irresistible.


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