Risky Business

Risk: A Novel by Colin Harrison

Risk is a crime novel, it might be said, that is not what it purports to be.   It is the story of one George Young, a lawyer at an insurance firm, who is asked to solve a mystery.   The mystery has to do with how and why the son of the firm’s late founder was killed in an apparent accident in New York City.   Young feels that he owes his good fortune in life to the late Mr. Corbett who rescued him from a lackluster existence as a prosecutor.   Therefore, he agrees to try to solve the mystery without a fee.

But Young is actually less a lawyer than an insurance fraud investigator, so investigating a suspicious death would appear to be right up his alley.   Then there’s the fact that this is actually a 174-page novella, or a two-thirds scale novel.   It often reads like a movie manuscript, quick with easy-to-visualize scenes and light on character development.

Risk would be a perfect book to read while commuting since the story is not too complex or demanding.   Harrison’s style as an author calls forth James Scott Bell (Try Fear), who writes of crime and dark figures with tongue a bit in cheek.   George Young, like Bell’s lead figure Ty Buchanan, plays investigator with a smirk and sometimes a joke.   He’s a bit too relaxed to be real and would probably be played by a young Bruce Willis-type in a film version.  

Come to think of it, the plot of Risk has some parallels to Try Fear, but we’ll put that aside…   In the end, Risk was less satisfying for two reasons.   First, the editing/proofing could have been better.   It was unsettling to come across mixed tense sentences, as in this example:  “All I wanted to do was go home and have dinner with Carol, maybe sit out on our balcony and drink some cheap wine while we ate.   Usually I ask if she’s heard from our daughter, Rachel, who was in her first year of college then.”   I think these sentences would have been correctly written as, “All I wanted to do back then was go home and have dinner with Carol…  I usually asked my wife if she’d heard from our daughter Rachel, who was in her first year of college.”   (Another sentence refers to, “…leaving life itself altogether.”   That’s about two words too many.)

More troubling was the implausible ending – a movie script cliché - which tied things up neatly but turned the tale into a shaggy dog story.   I’d stay away from this one unless you’re the type of reader who enjoys chasing his or her own tail.

A review copy was supplied by Picador and Library Thing.

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