What makes a thriller unputdownable?

A review of A Heartbeat Away, by Michael Palmer

@@@ (3 out of 5)

I’ll start with a confession: I literally had trouble putting this book down once I started reading it. If I’d had any experience with drugs other than a brief, youthful affair with marijuana, I might say that reading A Heartbeat Away was like a drug rush. However, I’m chagrined to note that, other than in the intoxicating suspense that builds throughout the novel, it’s really not all that good. A competent piece of work by an author of nearly two dozen similar books, but just not great.

So, here I am, reading a book that’s written without any special flair for language, about characters who are at best two-dimensional, in circumstances that are about as true to life as a James Bond adventure, and I’m loving the experience! Why is that?

First, I suppose, is the subject matter. A Heartbeat Away is about Presidential politics and biotechnology, both of which are topics I find irresistible.

Second, I’m sure, is the book’s plotting. What’s at stake in this story has nationwide, even global consequences, and the novel is full of surprises from beginning to end. It’s like following a zig-zag course through a minefield (or, at any rate, what I imagine that would feel like!).

Third is technique. Chapters end with cliff-hanging suspense, sometimes in the middle of conversations, and elsewhere leaving you hanging while the scene shifts abruptly to the events unfolding in another tensely drawn subplot.

If there’s more at work in A Heartbeat Away, I can’t detect it. Maybe I should feel ashamed of myself for actually reading this book from cover to cover?

1 Comment

Filed under Crime Novels, Mysteries & Thrillers

One response to “What makes a thriller unputdownable?

  1. Andrew Koenigsberg

    Don’t sweat it – my guilty pleasures include David Weber space operas. Another writer in this genre that I like is James Rollins. His latest – Alter of Eden, is a good read.

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