The Switch, by Joseph Finder

My Murder & Mayhem book club is reading cyber-crime mysteries this month. I read a lot of crime fiction, but not very much in the Action/Thriller category, and The Switch is a good representative example of why, although it’s well-researched, fairly well written, and contains all the requisite elements one would expect to find satisfying. So this is less of a critique of this specific book as it is of the limitations of the genre in my view.

The premise of The Switch is an “average” guy, Michael Tanner, who happens to accidentally pick up a senator’s laptop by mistake in airport security, and the lengths her team and other, darker governmental entities are willing to go to in order to retrieve it and make him disappear. Tanner has a wife, Sarah, from whom he is estranged at the beginning of the story, and a coffee business that’s just been outmaneuvered by a competitor. If I were writing the story, it would be Tanner and Sarah on the run together, fighting, cooperating, working out their relationship, but in Action genre style, this story is just about Tanner. Sarah appears at brief points in the narrative, and they reconcile – seeing him in danger makes her realize she still loves him – but the relationship is secondary (tertiary? quaternary?) to the main plot, even to the main interest, which is a race against the other men involved. By the end of the story, Tanner has, as one would expect, found a clever solution to extricate himself, and applies what he’s learned – the new man he’s become – to turn the tables on his business competitor. He’s learned, he tells the reader, If you kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat. I would never in a million years end a story on this moral.

I say fairly well written not to be snide, but because two of the main characters made choices that came out of left field for me. Everything hinges on Tanner not returning the laptop as soon as he realizes the mistake, and his decision has a whimsical quality to it when I think it has to be necessary: either something that comes out of a deeply flawed character or events outside of the character’s control. I have the deepest sympathy: an early draft of Lexi had John Michael letting himself be wheedled into letting LX8000 out of the lab, and I worked and re-worked it until I realized if your Act I turning point is “against his better judgement,” the whole thing is on crutches.