Take a mucked-up desperado-wannabe, a creepy hulk, a drained out hostage negotiator and the Mafia, and you have the recipe for something truly unusual.
Frank Talley is an ace hostage negotiator with the Los Angeles SWAT team. However, the stress and brittle danger of these situations take their toll on the man, until he finally loses a hostage. Logically, he cannot find any fault with his procedure but he just cannot live with the fact that he let someone die. He goes into a shell, spending his day watching television and slouching on the couch, till his family gets sick of him and his wife throws him out. That's when he moves to a small town on the outskirt of L.A. called Bristo and is duly appointed the Chief of Police. Life is slow and uneventful in this quiet little place...until now.
Here's where Dennis Rooney steps in. With a history of petty crimes and a recent release from a correctional institution behind him, and a scared, whining younger brother, Kevin and a scary, silent acquaintance Mars. Dennis is tired from his current job at a construction site and convinces his two companions to come along for the ride and help him "do something big". To start off with, they decide to rob an out-of-the-way Korean mini-mart. Unfortunately for them, the owner gets suspicious and gets shot while trying to turn the tables on them with his gun. They take off but are spotted in doing so. Word gets out to to the cops, who are suddenly faced with an actual crime and Frank Talley, who is faced with his old fears again. Meanwhile, the squabbling delinquents realise that time is short, ditch their wagon and run into the nearest house.
Welcome to the Smith residence. The quiet man, working on his computer, is an accountant by the name of Walter Smith. That bored teenager is his daughter Jennifer and the smug young kid is her troublesome brother Thomas. All of whom aren't expecting three armed men to barge into their house and start shouting at them. Things get out of hand when Dennis hits Mr. Smith, who collapses into a coma. And things get totally out of hand when the police arrive, a shoot-out occurs and instead of just passing through, Dennis decides to take them hostage.
Talley arrives on the scene, with no information about the kidnappers, their motives or the people inside. And let's not forget - no intelligence back-up, no proper snipers and a police force made up of retired security guards. Things however, start unravelling and the media get in on the action. Which is how the Mafia gets to know about it and we get to know that Walter Smith was a brilliant accountant who ma,naged all the illegal accounts and tansactions for one Sonny Benza, who in turn works for a New York family. Worse, he has all the records and lots of money in his house.
Here's where things get very interesting.
Benza sends his men in, the New York Family sends their men in, Talley calls in the Sheriff's Department, Dennis freaks out, Thomas and Jennifer start trying to figure out a way to get out, and Mars begins to get some scary ideas. All this is interspersed with the high-pressure situation of hostage negotiations and the scary atmosphere within the house, while the Mafia take Talley's family hostage and make him responsible for getting the disks containing the information. Things keep spiralling in and out of control as Talley tries to get his work done while remaining within the limits of the law.
The basic plot is subtly different to give it an unusual flavour. But what really pushes it beyond the pale is the treatment Crais metes out to his characters, whether it's Dennis, Mars or Benza. The pace is hectic throughout, and Crais juggles the numerous sub-plots with such skill that you can't help getting drawn into the events. The characterisation is superb and Crais deals out surprises like a Vegas cardshark, keeping you guessing until the last moment. A must read!This article was first published on 20 Feb 2002.