Looking back on it now, after all that’s happened, it seems insane with what little fear I picked this path.
Once one accepts the bizarre premise of Smith’s astonishingly adept, ingeniously plotted debut thriller, the book fulfills every expectation of a novel of suspense, leading the reader on a wild exploration of the banality of evil. It’s very similar to The Basis Of Morality by Stephen King in a way that it explores a “what-if” scenario which puts the concept of good and evil into perspective.
When Hank Mitchell, his obese, feckless brother Jacob and Jacob’s smarmy friend Lou accidentally find a wrecked small plane and its dead pilot in the woods near their small Ohio town, they decide not to tell the authorities about the $4.4 million stuffed into a duffel bag.
Instead, they agree to hide the money and later divide it among themselves.
And it was like magic, too, like a gift from the gods, the ease with which a solution came to me, a simple plan, a way to keep the money without fear of getting caught.
The ‘simple plan’ sets in motion a spiral of blackmail, betrayal and multiple murder which Smith manipulates with consummate skill, increasing the tension exponentially with plot twists that are inevitable and unpredictable at the same time. In choosing to make his protagonist an ordinary middle-class man – Hank is an accountant in a feed and grain store – Smith demonstrates the eerie ease with which the mundane can descend to the unthinkable.
Hank commits the first murder to protect his brother and their secret; he eerily rationalizes the ensuing coldblooded deeds while remaining outwardly normal, hardly an obvious psychopath. Smith’s imagination never palls; the writing peaks in a gory liquor store scene that’s worthy of comparison to Stephen King at his best.
I was doomed now, trapped, that the rest of my life would pivot somehow off this single act, that in trying to save Jacob, I’d damned us both.
This book has been adapted into a movie.