“He runs his finger down the page, and he finds it, there on page 136, just as his mind’s eye pictured it, in his sleep in the middle of the night. One word. One letter. I. He thought he’d caught every one.”
— The Accident by Chris Pavone
Isabel Reed, a 40-something literary agent, receives an anonymous and mysterious manuscript, which is the unofficial biography of media mogul Charlie Wolfe and has the potential to collapse his Wolfe Media empire. The consequences of publishing the manuscript are numerous, but the benefits are too tempting to pass up in an industry that is struggling to make ends meet with editors and agents desperately seeking their next big break. However, there are people who have been anticipating this manuscript’s arrival on the publishing scene long before the manuscript is couriered to Isabel’s door, and they will do whatever it takes to make sure The Accident doesn’t see the printing press.
I don’t usually read books from the thriller or mystery genre, but when I won The Accident by Chris Pavone in a RHC Goodreads giveaway, I had to give it a try, and I am certainly glad that I did. Not only is The Accident about the publishing industry, a topic I am obviously partial to, but it is exciting! The book covers just 24 hours and it is chock full of adrenaline pumping action.
The main character is Isabel Reed, a well-recognized literary agent who, at the moment, hasn’t been performing at her best. Life hasn’t turned out as she had expected it to, divorced and living alone, and she is constantly haunted by the unfair loss of her child (the “how” isn’t introduced until much later in the book). It is the arrival of the anonymous manuscript that begins Isabel’s rude awakening from her monotonous lifestyle as new secrets are revealed, including one that has been long buried involving a drunken car ride and a missing girl.
Over the course of one very long day, the manuscript gets its fair share of traffic, but the people who pursue it for their own ends have a lot more to fear than just a paper cut: Isabel’s eager assistant, Alexis, sees The Accident as her big break; Jeff, an old friend and veteran editor sees it as his chance to redeem his career before it landslides; Camilla, an ambitious rights director, wants to leave behind books for movies and sees The Accident as her one-way ticket to fame and fortune; Brad, the publisher, thinks The Accident may save his business; and, the most sinister of all, Hayden, a wily CIA operative with damaging connections to Wolfe, is determined to eliminate the manuscript at all costs—and that includes anyone who gets in the way. All the while, the author observes from afar, remaining hidden in an expensively obtained expat life in Zurich, wrestling with the truths and lies that define him and the story he is trying to tell.
The writing of The Accident is designed for the fast-paced thriller that this book is meant to be. There is no break to the action after Isabel finishes reading the anonymous manuscript that is sent to her door. The content is dangerous and no one is safe after reading it. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time while reading, desperate to know if Isabel would be able to keep one step ahead of Hayden and his goons.
While the book was gripping in every way possible, I did find the result of its suspense unsatisfying. Almost every chapter, nearing its end, led up to a culminating moment, a question of life or death, which is suppose to be thrilling, no? Unfortunately, Pavone sells out at the end of some of his chapters,and it is as if he got fed up with the action leading up to this final point and decided to simply drop the bombshell on his readers: and then this happened. End of story. I found my anticipation climbing to an apex, only to have it suddenly deflated. I would have liked to have a seen a smoother transition to the end result, one that still had impact, but wasn’t a disappoint after all that careful preparation for it.
Aside from this one setback, Pavone does an amazing job in setting the scene. As a past editor himself, he demonstrates his knowledge of the publishing industry, going to great lengths to describe the dog-eat-dog world of agents and editors looking for the next bestseller and the apparently dismal state of the industry itself. While I found his view of publishing a little disheartening (I don’t think it is as hard done by as Pavone lets on), he is for the most part true to life, depicting the long hours, struggling with the reality of a career with not so great pay, and dealing with difficult authors. However, I don’t think a manuscript this threatening has ever come onto the real publishing scene, thank goodness. I for one don’t want to fear for my life when I edit a manuscript, as exciting as the idea may be to read about.
I will admit that Pavone had me duped until near the very end of The Accident. I had tried to guess and perhaps, to the more experienced thriller/mystery reader, I missed some of the more obvious clues, hinting at who the author really was and his connection to the other characters in the book, aside from Charlie. But I am also glad that I didn’t uncover the truth. As a result, the “ah ha” moment was far more enjoyable, and I greedily went over the earlier details given in the book. I was then able to smile appreciatively at Pavone’s vague statements that betray just an inkling of the truth, which is not quite enough to ruin his grand unveiling later on.
A well-crafted mystery and a thrilling read, The Accident will grip you and leave you wondering, “who really won?”
3 out of 5 book thumbs up
First Reads copy via Goodreads provided to me by Random House of Canada.
The Accident by Chris Pavone, published by Crown, © 2014