Hostage Taker by Stefanie PintoffPublication Year: 2015 (August 18th)
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Crime
Series: Eve Rossi #1
Format: Advanced Reader Copy provided through NetGalley by Random House-Bantam Dell Publishing - Thanks to them for providing this free advanced copy! Receiving the book for free does not effect my opinion or review of it.
I requested this ARC because I am a huge fan of Pintoff's historical mystery series featuring Simon Ziele as a police detective in turn of the 20th century New York. Hostage Taker represents a complete departure from that series as it has a contemporary setting and it leans closer to the thriller end of things then a straight mystery. The setting is still New York and it centers around a female FBI agent, Eve Rossi, whose specialty is hostage negotiations.
When we meet Eve she is on a self-imposed extended leave from the FBI because of a spectacular failed hostage negotiation which made her switch jobs and then the additional blow of her mysterious CIA agent stepfather's violent death. She gets pulled back into her job when an unnamed hostage taker asks for her by name. She is intrigued despite herself because the kidnapper has chosen the iconic St. Patrick's Cathedral as his target and his actions are atypical for a hostage taker. For one thing, asking for Eve by name, for another his only demand is to assemble a group of five people who are seemingly completely unrelated.
Once Eve is sucked in she insists on bringing in her crew - a secret unit of the FBI that is made up of ex-convicts which has been disbanded since she's been on leave. The crew are all pretty well stock characters that are exactly what you might expect. There's Eli, an awkward accountant type who is such a genius with financial systems he couldn't help but do a little embezzling. Mace is an alpha male basketball hustler, a man of action with street knowledge and cred. Garcia is a troubled career military warrior who knows explosives and guns and infiltrating difficult places. Finally, Haddox, a charming Irish rogue who is an expert at using technology to spy and rip people off. He and Eve have "a past" because of course they do. He's Irish, and charming and roguish after all. Round out the cast with an FBI administrator who cares more about politics than being a good boss and you've got a big old pile of rather stale characters but more about that later.
The format of the book was fairly unique. Chapters are short with the intention of moving the action along and alternate between news bulletins, short diatribes by the mastermind of the hostage taking and narratives of Eve and her team as they try to figure out who the hostage taker is so they can resolve the situation. The hostage taker is by far the most interesting character in the book. He/She is mysterious but we do get a peek into their heads. At first it is confusing because it is unclear who it is that is talking to us in the intermittent chapters that slowly reveal the motives and plan of the hostage taking. The slow roll out of the hostage taker's intimate feelings interspersed with the desperate activity of the people trying to understand and stop the crisis, works well and still allows for many twists and turns along the way.
As you might guess from the above paragraph, I do think that this part of the book, the actual thriller part, is complex and creative and interesting. I think for most it will be a page turner. It kept me reading for sure but perhaps not terribly obsessively which was likely not the book's fault. Contemporary thriller's are not really my cup of tea. Set a thriller plot on a British sailing vessel in 1830 or make one of the twists an inter-dimensional time shift and I am riveted but your modern day run of the mill, FBI, blah blah blah thriller is just okay for me. I took a chance on this book because I love the author and it's a testament to her that I did like the book quite a bit but overall it was just okay. Not bad, just fine.
The thing that could have offset my general ennui with the book and bumped it up from good to excellent is if I had fallen in love, engaged with, been interested by...SOMETHING...with the characters. There is a hint of a bigger story with Eve that could be developed into something interesting in future books but the problem here I think is that there was just too much to do. You can tell by the cover art, Pintoff was going for a fast-paced wild ride of a novel and pulling that off while introducing five ensemble characters is nigh on impossible. In my opinion, the characterization suffered and fell back on cliches and tired tropes. There was no time for more development which was a shame. I compare it with another completely unrelated series which is on my mind because I have been reading a lot of it lately; The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The Dresden Files books are super duper fast paced, non stop action and suspense but I feel like I also have a very high level of affection and knowledge of the characters so what's the difference between this series and Hostage Taker? I realized that in the Dresden Files we are really only in the head of Harry and really only know him well from the get go. The large cast of characters who I have great affection for have all been developed slowly piece by piece over 15 volumes. So Hostage Taker was super ambitious to try and develop reader-character rapport with five characters all at once OR perhaps I just need to give the series a little time to flesh them out. Finally, and this is the last I'll say about it, we are introduced to these characters in the middle of their relationships which is frequently a problem for me. I generally like to see things developed from the beginning but if Pintoff had taken that road, it would have involved even more time with the characters and the book would have lost its momentum.
FINAL VERDICT: I guess it all comes down to what you are looking for. If it's an action packed police procedural thriller? This is your book! It's a solid and even inventive example of this type of book. I liked it but would have loved it, if more attention had been given to character and relationship development among the ensemble cast. 3 out of 5 stars.