Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Ninth District: the way thrillers should be written

An independent novel review

I like it when an author sets his book in his home town, especially when it’s a place that doesn’t normally get mentioned in much mass media. The depth of knowledge comes through in the detail and that makes the story that much more realistic. For me, even nicer that it’s a place I visited a number of times, and where the geography is similar to the place where I grew up.

But that’s not the important reason that I liked Doug Dorow’s The Ninth District. It’s a terrific book, a thriller with a unique story and believable characters.

The story:

Minneapollis is the Ninth District of the Federal Reserve, where the US prints its currency; the Federal Reserve has a big, very secure building in that city. No Federal Reserve has ever been robbed, so it must present a huge temptation to robbers — and to writers of heist thrillers.

Dorow succumbed to the temptation and crafted this excellent yarn. It has all the elements required for a heist story: a good plan, cliff-hanging suspense and lots of detail about methods, setting, skills and contingencies. Dorow has clearly done his homework.

He also presents a number of excellent plot twists, particularly in the way the villain anticipates the hero’s action. The book opens with the hero, Jack Miller, watching a security video that shows a bank robber murdering a pregnant woman unnecessarily. The murder and several minor bank robberies are all part of the villain’s (whom the cops have dubbed “the Governor” for his habit of wearing a face mask of a former governor of Minnesota) plan.

Strong characters

The hero is FBI agent Jack Miller. He’s a sympathetic character. Separated from his wife and child and trying to work on reuniting, he’s also working through the transition from the young hotshot FBI agent to the veteran teaching the new guy the ropes.

Far too often, new thriller authors make their heroes way too heroic: the genius sharpshooter who’s also a martial arts master, speaks ten languages and is irresistibly handsome.

Jack Miller is flawed, fallible and far easier to identify with — and that makes him much more interesting as a character, too. Sure, he’s smart, he knows how to investigate cases, but he also reacts to threats against himself and his family in believable ways.

The protégé, Agent Ross, is also believable. He’s young, smart and eager for action — a little too eager, sometimes, and his mistakes get him badly hurt.

Jack’s wife, Julie, is well presented, as well. I wish, though, that she was a somewhat larger part of the story.

The villain, the Governor, is smart and ruthless, killing innocent women as part of his plan to throw the cops off his planned heist. However, Dorow has possibly tried too hard to make the villain appear mysterious and threatening. I would have liked to see a little more detail about him, his background and his underlying personality.

Smooth, competent style

Dorow is a professional writer of fiction and has earned all those good reviews. He knows how to bring out the characters through words and actions – showing, not telling. He know how to provide lots of detail about the city, the environment and police procedures without bogging the story down – I couldn’t stop turning pages (or swiping my finger across the screen of my iPad).

There’s lots of action and suspense in The Ninth District, and you want the good guys to succeed in not just the case, but their personal quests, as well.

If you like thrillers, download The Ninth District right now.


The Ninth District on Amazon

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