A online sale Simple Plan online

A online sale Simple Plan online

A online sale Simple Plan online
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Description

Product Description

“Spectacular. . . . Ten shades blacker and several corpses grimmer than the novels of John Grisham. . . . Do yourself a favor. Read this book.” —Entertainment Weekly

Two brothers and their friend stumble upon the wreckage of a plane–the pilot is dead and his duffle bag contains four million dollars in cash. In order to hide, keep, and share the fortune, these ordinary men all agree to a simple plan.

Review

“Read this book. It is better than any suspense novel since The Silence of the Lambs.” —Stephen King
 
“Spectacular. . . . Ten shades blacker and several corpses grimmer than the novels of John Grisham. . . . Do yourself a favor. Read this book.” — Entertainment Weekly
 
“Beautifully controlled and disturbing. . . . Works a devastating variation on the idea of the banality of evil.” — The New York Times Book Review
 
“Like watching a train wreck. There is nothing to be done, but it is impossible to turn away.” — Chicago Tribune
 
“A marvel. . . . The story-twists keep you turning the pages and guessing what’s coming next. With cool precision, Smith outlines the ever-widening spiral of distrust and violence.” — The Boston Globe
 
“A work of deceptive simplicity and singular power. . . . To describe the fascinating parade of thoughts and deeds that lead inexorably to the book’s calamitous conclusion would give away too much of the plot.” — The Washington Post

About the Author

Scott Smith was educated at Dartmouth College and Columbia University. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1

My parents died in an automobile accident the year after I was married. They tried to enter I-75 through an exit ramp one Saturday night and crashed head-on into a semi hauling cattle. My father was killed instantly in the wreck, decapitated by the hood of his car, but my mother, miraculously, survived. She lived for a day and a half more, hooked up to machines in the Delphia Municipal Hospital, her neck and back broken, her heart leaking blood into her chest.

The semi driver came through it all with only a few minor bruises. His truck had caught fire, though, barbecuing the cattle, and after my mother died he sued my parents’ estate for damages. He won the suit but got no material satisfaction from it: my father had mortgaged his farm to the hilt and was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy when he died.

My wife Sarah’s pet theory was that he’d committed suicide, driven to it by the embarrassing proliferation of his debts. I argued with her at the time, though not very wholeheartedly. In hindsight, you see, it seems that he may’ve made certain preparations. A week before the accident, he came by my house in his pickup, its truck bed packed with furniture. Sarah and I had no use for any of it, but he was insistent, threatening to head straight for the dump if we didn’t accept the entire load, so I helped him carry it, piece by piece, down to the basement. After he left us, he drove over to my brother Jacob’s apartment and gave him the pickup.

There was also his will, the first clause of which was an injunction upon Jacob and me that we swear orally, in each other’s presence, to visit his grave every year, without fail, on his birthday. It continued from there, a bizarrely elaborate document, pages and pages, going through the old farmhouse room by room, bequeathing each object to us by name, no matter how trivial or inconsequential—a shaving kit, a broom, and an old Bible for Jacob; a broken blender, a pair of work boots, and a black stone paperweight in the shape of a crow for me. It was pointless, of course, wasted effort. We had to sell everything of any value to pay the debts he’d left behind, and the things of no value we had no use for. We had to sell the farm, too, our boyhood home. A neighbor bought it, grafting it to his own land, absorbing it like a giant amoeba. He knocked down the house, filled in the basement, and planted a soybean field on the lot.

My brother and I had never been close, not even as children, and the gap between us only grew wider as we got older. By the time of the accident, we had very little except our parents left in common, and their sudden deaths eased whatever weight this might’ve normally held.

Jacob, older than I by three years, had dropped out of high school and lived alone in a small apartment above the hardware store in Ashenville, the town in which we were raised, a tiny crossroads marked with a flashing yellow light, as rural as rural gets in northern Ohio. He worked on a construction crew in the summer and survived off unemployment benefits through the winter.

I’d gone to college, the first in my family to do so, graduating from the University of Toledo with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. I’d married Sarah, a classmate of mine, and moved to Delphia, thirty miles east of Ashenville, just outside of Toledo. There we bought a three-bedroom, unabashedly suburban house—dark green aluminum siding and black shutters, a two-car garage, cable TV, a microwave, the Toledo Blade delivered with a soft thump to our doorstep every evening at dusk. I commuted back to Ashenville each weekday, to the feedstore there, where I worked as assistant manager and head accountant.

There was no animosity between Jacob and me, no bad blood, we simply weren’t comfortable around each other, had difficulty finding things to say, and made little attempt to hide it. More than once, coming out onto the street after work, I saw him dodge into a doorway to avoid meeting me, and each time I felt more relief than pain.

The one tie we did have, after our parents’ accident, was the keeping of our promise to our father. Year after year on his birthday we’d repair to the cemetery and stand in stiff, awkward silence beside the grave site, each waiting for the other to suggest that a proper amount of time had passed, so that we could part and slip back into our separate lives. It was a depressing way to spend an afternoon, and we probably would’ve given it up after the very first time had we both not felt that we’d be punished somehow if we did, cursed from beyond the grave for our failure to stand by our word.

Our father’s birthday was December 31, the last day of the year, and the visit gradually took on a ritualized aspect, like any other event during the holiday season, a final hurdle to cross before reaching the new year. It became, essentially, our chief time to interact. We’d catch up on each other’s lives, talk about our parents or our childhood, make vague promises to see each other more often, and leave the cemetery with the clean feeling of having rather painlessly fulfilled an unpleasant duty.

This went on for seven years.



On the eighth year, December 31, 1987, Jacob picked me up at my house. He came around three-thirty, a half hour late, with his dog and his friend Lou in his truck. They’d been ice fishing together, their chief activity in the winter, and we had to drop Lou off on the other side of Ashenville before proceeding to the cemetery.

I never liked Lou, and I don’t think he ever liked me. He used to call me Mr. Accountant, saying it in a way which seemed to imply that I ought to be embarrassed by my occupation, ashamed of its conventionality and stability. I was peculiarly intimidated by him, though I could never discern exactly why. It certainly wasn’t his physical presence. He was a short, balding man, forty-five years old, just beginning to put on weight in the gut. His blond hair was thin, wispy, so that you could see his scalp beneath it, pink and chapped looking. He had crooked teeth, and they gave him a slightly comical quality, a mock toughness, making him look like some two-dimensional disreputable character out of a boy’s adventure book—an old boxer, a street thug, an ex-con.

As I came down the walk, he climbed out of the pickup to greet me, so that I’d have to sit in the middle of the seat.

“Howdy, Hank,” he said, grinning. Jacob smiled at me from behind the wheel. His dog, a big, overgrown mutt, mostly German shepherd, but with some Labrador thrown in on top, was in the back. It was a male dog, but Jacob had named him Mary Beth, after a girl he’d dated in high school, his first and only girlfriend. He referred to him as a “she,” too, as if the dog’s name had blinded him to his gender.

I climbed in, Lou pulled himself up behind me, and we backed our way down my driveway to the street.

My house was in a small subdivision called Fort Ottowa, after a frontier outpost whose inhabitants had frozen to death in a blizzard sometime before the start of the Revolution. It was farmland, unrelentingly flat but made over to look like it wasn’t. The roads curved around imaginary obstacles, and people constructed little hills in their front yards, like burial mounds, covering them with shrubbery. The houses up and down the street were tiny, each one built right up against the next—starter houses, the realtor had called them—full of newly married couples on their way up in the world, or retirees on their way down, the former planning careers and babies and moves to nicer neighborhoods, the latter wait- ing for their savings to disappear, their health to suddenly worsen, their children to send them away to old-age homes. It was a way station, a rung near the bottom of the ladder.

Sarah and I, of course, belonged to the first group. We had a nest egg, an account gathering interest in the Ashenville Savings Bank. Someday soon we were going to move away, take a step up in the world, the first of many. That was the plan, at least.

Once beyond my neighborhood, we headed west, away from Delphia, and as we did the curving streets, the clustered groupings of two-story houses with circular driveways and swing sets and picnic tables rapidly dissolved away behind us. The roads straightened themselves, becoming narrower in the process. Snow blew across them in places, moving snakelike, in long, thin, dusty lines, piling up along their edges. Houses strayed from one another, separated by whole fields now rather than simple squares of grass. Trees disappeared, the horizon widened, and the view took on a windswept look, a white-gray barrenness. We passed fewer and fewer cars.

It was an uncomfortable ride. Jacob’s truck was eleven years old, and there was nothing about it that did not show its age. At one time it had been painted a bright tomato red, my brother’s favorite color, but it was faded now to a scab- like burgundy, its sides pockmarked with rust. Its shocks were shot, its heater erratic. The rear window was missing, replaced by a sheet of plastic. The radio was broken, the windshield wipers torn off, and there was a hole the size of a baseball in the floor. A steady stream of cold air blew in through this, shooting straight up my right pant leg.

Jacob and Lou talked about the weather as we drove, how cold it had been lately, when it would snow next, whether or not it had rained on the previous New Year’s Eve. I kept silent, listening. Whereas I normally felt merely awkward alone with Jacob, when I was with him and Lou together I felt both awkward and excluded. They had an aggressively private way of interacting; their language was coded, intimate, their humor schoolboyish and obscure. Lou would say “pineapple,” with an extra stress on the “pine,” or Jacob would moo like a cow, and they’d both immediately tumble into laughter. It was bewildering—I could never escape the feeling that they were constantly making fun of me.

We passed a frozen pond, with skaters on it, children in bright jackets shooting back and forth. Dark, weathered barns dotted the horizon. It never ceased to surprise me: we were ten minutes away from my house and already surrounded by farms.

We drove south of Ashenville, skirting the town, keeping it just out of sight beyond the horizon, taking State High- way 17, ruler straight, until we hit Burnt Road. We turned right there, heading north, then left onto Anders Park Road. We crossed a long, low cement bridge over Anders Creek, plowed snow piled thickly over its railings, making it look fake, like something from a Christmas story, a cookie-dough bridge.

Beyond the creek was Anders Nature Preserve, a thickly wooded square of land that hovered at the right-hand edge of the road for the next two miles. It was a park, run by the county. There was a small pond at its very center, stocked with fish and surrounded by a mown field. People came out from Toledo during the summer to picnic there and play games, to throw Frisbees and fly kites.

The place had originally been the private estate of Bernard C. Anders, an early automobile magnate from Detroit. He’d bought the land in the 1920s and built a large summer house on it, the stone foundations of which were still visible beside the pond. When he died, during the Depression, the estate passed to his wife. She moved into the house year-round and lived there for the next four decades, finally leaving it only to be buried. She and Bernard had produced no children, so she chose to bequeath the land to the county, on the condition that they make it into a nature preserve and name it after her husband. It was an unusual place for a park, out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on four sides by working farms, but the county, with an eye on state tax credits for parkland, accepted. The house was razed, picnic tables carted in, hiking trails cut, and Anders Nature Preserve was created.

We’d gone about a mile past the bridge, halfway down the southern edge of the park, when a fox sprinted in front of us.

It all happened very quickly. I saw a flash of movement off to the left, coming out of the snow-covered field, had just enough time to focus in on it, see that it was a fox, a large, reddish one, sleek and healthy, a dead chicken hanging from its jaws, and it was in front of us, shooting across the road, its body taut, hugging the ground, as if it thought it might sneak by unseen. Jacob slammed on the brakes, too hard, and the truck went into a skid, its rear end coming out to the left, its front bumper sliding right, digging with a loud, raking sound into the snow at the edge of the road. There was the crystalline popping sound of a headlight shattering; then the truck slammed to a stop. We were thrown forward, and the dog came flying in through the plastic rear window, tearing it, his legs scrambling in panic. He was there in the cab for just a moment—I felt his fur, cold against the back of my neck—then he was gone, back out the hole he had made, over the side of the truck, and into the woods after the fox.

Jacob was the first to speak. “Fuck,” he said softly. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Lou giggled a little at that and pushed open his door. We climbed out onto the road. The imploded headlight was the only damage, and we stared at it for a bit, forming a semicircle around the front of the truck.

Jacob tried calling the dog. “Mary Beth!” he yelled. He whistled shrilly.

No one seeing us standing there would’ve ever recognized us as brothers. Jacob took after our father, while I took after our mother, and the difference was dramatic. I’m brown haired, brown eyed, of medium height and build. Jacob was several inches taller than me, blue eyed, with sandy blond hair. He was also a fat, fat man, immensely, even grotesquely overweight, like a caricature of obesity. He had big hands, big feet, big teeth, thick glasses, and pale, doughy skin.

We could hear the dog barking. He was getting farther and farther away.

“Mary Beth!” Jacob yelled.

The trees were fairly thick here, standing close together—maples, oaks, buckeyes, sycamores—but there was relatively little undergrowth. I could see the fox’s tracks winding their way in and around the trunks, disappearing into the distance. Mary Beth’s paw prints ran parallel to them, a little darker in the snow, wider and rounder, like a trail of hockey pucks beneath the trees. The ground was perfectly flat.

We listened to the dog’s barking grow fainter and fainter.

On the other side of the road was a field, smooth with snow. I could see tracks there, too, coming toward us from the far horizon, perfectly straight, as if the fox had been walking along one of the field’s furrows, masked from view by the snow. In the distance, a little toward the east, I could make out Dwight Pederson’s farm—a stand of trees, a dark red barn, a pair of grain silos, and a two-story house that looked gray against the snowy landscape, though I knew it was actually light blue.

“It had one of Pederson’s chickens,” I said.

“Stole it.” Lou nodded. “Broad daylight.”

Jacob whistled for Mary Beth. After a while it seemed like he’d stopped moving away. The barking neither decreased nor increased in volume. We listened to it, tilting our heads toward the woods. I was getting cold—there was a stiff wind cutting across the road from the field—and I was eager to climb back inside the truck.

“Call him again,” I said.

Jacob ignored me. “She’s treed it,” he said to Lou.

Lou’s hands were deep in the pockets of his jacket. It was an army surplus jacket, white for camouflage in the snow. “That’s how it sounds,” he said.

“We’ll have to go in and get her now,” Jacob said.

Lou nodded, took a wool hat from his pocket, and pulled it down over his pink skull.

“Call him once more,” I said, but Jacob ignored me again, so I tried calling the dog myself.

“Mary Beth,” I yelled. My voice came out pitifully thin in the cold air.

“He’s not coming,” Lou said.

Jacob shuffled back to the truck and opened the driver’s side door. “You don’t have to go, Hank,” he said. “You can wait here if you want.”

I didn’t have a hat with me, and I wasn’t wearing boots—I hadn’t planned on hiking through the snow—but I knew that both Jacob and Lou expected me to stay behind, expected me to wait like an old man in the truck, and I knew that they’d joke about it while they made their way off through the trees and tease me when they returned.

So, against my will, I said, “No, I’ll go.”

Jacob was leaning into the truck, fiddling around in the space behind the seat. When he emerged he was holding a hunting rifle. He took a bullet out of a little cardboard box and loaded it into the gun. Then he put the box back behind the seat.

“There’s no reason,” he said. “You’ll just be cold.”

“What’s the rifle for?” I asked. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Lou grinning.

Jacob shrugged. He cradled the gun in his arms, flipped the collar of his jacket up around his ears. His parka was bright red and, like all his clothes, a size too tight for him.

“It’s posted land,” I said. “You can’t hunt here.”

Jacob smiled. “It’s compensation: that fox’s tail for my broken headlight.” He glanced toward Lou. “I’m only taking one bullet, like the great white hunter. That seem fair to you?”

“Perfectly,” Lou said, drawing out the first syllable so that it sounded like “purrrr.”

He and Jacob both laughed. Jacob stepped awkwardly up onto the snowbank at the side of the road, balanced there for a second, as if he might fall backward, then gathered himself and lumbered down into the trees. Lou followed right behind him, still giggling, leaving me alone on the road.

I hesitated there, wavering between the twin sins of comfort and pride. In the end it was pride and the thought of Lou’s snickering that carried the day. With something bordering on revulsion, I watched myself climb up over the bank and set off through the snow, hurrying lest they get too far ahead.



The snow was shin deep in the woods, and there were things hidden beneath its smooth surface—the trunks of fallen trees, stones, broken branches, holes, and stumps—which made the going much harder than I’d anticipated. Lou led the way, spry, scurrying ratlike between the trees, as if he were being chased. I followed directly in his tracks, and Jacob brought up the rear, a good ways behind us, his face turning a brilliant pink, just a shade lighter than his jacket, with the effort of moving his huge body forward through the snow.

The dog’s barking didn’t seem to get any closer.

We continued on like this for about fifteen minutes. Then the trees suddenly thinned, and the land dropped away before us into a wide, shallow bowl, as if, millions of years before, a giant meteorite had landed there, carving out its impression in the earth. Parallel lines of stunted, sickly looking trees transversed the hollow—they were apple trees, the remains of Bernard Anders’s orchard.

Lou and I stopped on the edge of the bowl to wait for Jacob. We didn’t talk; we were both out of breath. Jacob shouted something through the trees at us, then laughed, but neither of us understood him. I scanned the orchard for the dog, following his paw prints with my eyes. They disappeared in the distance beneath the trees.

“He’s not in there,” I said.

Lou listened to the dog’s barking. It still seemed very far away. “No,” he agreed. “He isn’t.”

I made a complete circle of the horizon with my eyes, taking in both the orchard and the woods behind us. The only thing moving for as far as I could see was Jacob, working his way aggressively through the snow. He still had another fifty yards to go and was progressing at a pathetically slow rate. His jacket was unzipped, and even at that distance I could hear the tortured sound of his breathing. He was using his rifle like a cane, digging its butt into the snow and pulling himself forward by its barrel. Behind him, he’d cut a wide swath of deep, messy tracks, so that it looked as if he’d been dragged through the woods against his will, struggling and kicking the entire way.

By the time he reached us, he was soaked with sweat, his skin actually steaming. Lou and I stood there watching him try to catch his breath.

“Christ,” he said, gasping, “I wish we’d brought something to drink.” He took off his glasses and wiped them on his jacket, squinting down at the ground as if he half-expected to find a pitcher of water sitting there in the snow.

Lou waved his hand in the air like a magician, snapped his fingers over the right-hand pocket of his jacket, then reached in and pulled out a can of beer. He popped its top, slurped the foam from the lid, and, smiling, offered it to Jacob.

“Always be prepared,” he said.

Jacob gulped twice at it, pausing in between to catch his breath. When he finished, he returned the can to Lou. Lou took a long, slow swallow, his head tilted back, his Adam’s apple sliding up and down the wall of his throat like a piston. Then he held the can out toward me. It was a Budweiser; I could smell its sweetish scent.

I shook my head, shivering. I’d started to sweat hiking through the snow, and now, standing still, my damp skin was becoming chilled. The muscles in my legs were trembling and jumping.

“Come on,” he said. “Have a sip. It won’t hurt you.”

“I don’t want any, Lou. I’m not thirsty.”

“Sure you are,” he prodded. “You’re sweating, aren’t you?”

I was about to decline again, this time more forcefully, when Jacob interrupted us.

“Is that a plane?” he asked.

Both Lou and I glanced into the sky, searching the low clouds for movement, ears keyed for the hum of an engine, before realizing that he was pointing down into the orchard. We followed his finger to the very center of the bowl, and there, nestled among the rows of stunted apple trees, hidden almost completely by its covering of snow, was indeed a tiny single-engine airplane.



Lou and I reached it first, side by side.

The plane was resting perfectly flat on its belly, as if it were a toy and a giant hand had reached down out of the sky to set it there, snug beneath the branches of the trees. There were remarkably few signs of damage. Its propeller was twisted out of shape, its left wing was bent back a bit, tearing a tiny hole in the fuselage, but the land itself was relatively unmarked; there were no upturned trees, no jagged, black gashes in the earth to reveal its path of impact.

Lou and I circled the wreck, neither of us approaching close enough to touch it. The plane was surprisingly small, no bigger really than Jacob’s truck, and there was something fragile about it: it seemed far too tiny to support the weight of a man in the air.

Jacob came slowly down into the orchard. The snow had settled more deeply here, and he looked like he was wading or shuffling toward us on his knees. Off in the distance, Mary Beth continued sporadically to bark.

“Jesus,” Lou said. “Look at all these birds.”

At first I didn’t see them—they were so still in the trees—but then suddenly, as soon as I saw one, they all seemed to jump out at me. They were everywhere, filling the entire orchard, hundreds and hundreds of black crows perched motionless on the dark, bare branches of the apple trees.

Lou packed some snow into a ball and tossed it at one of them. Three crows lifted into the air, completed a slow half circle over the plane, and settled with a soft fluttering onto a neighboring tree. One of them cawed, once, and the sound of it echoed off the shallow sides of the bowl.

“It’s fucking spooky,” Lou said, shivering.

Jacob came up, huffing and puffing. His jacket was still unbuttoned, his shirttails hanging out. He took a few seconds to catch his breath.

“Anybody inside?” he asked.

Neither of us answered him. I hadn’t even thought about it, but of course there had to be someone inside—a pilot, dead. I stared uneasily at the plane. Lou threw another snowball at the crows.

“You haven’t checked?” Jacob asked.

He handed his rifle to Lou and lumbered up to the plane. There was a door in its side, just behind the damaged wing. He grabbed its handle and gave it a tug. The plane made a loud creaking sound, metal pushing against metal, and the door swung open about five inches, then stopped. Jacob tugged again, putting his weight into it, and got another inch and a half. Then he grabbed the edge of the door with both hands and pulled so hard that the whole plane rocked back and forth, dislodging its shell of snow, revealing the shiny silver metal beneath, but not moving the door at all.

Emboldened by his aggressiveness, I approached the plane more closely. I tried peering in through the windshield but could make nothing out. The glass was spiderwebbed with a tiny, intricate matrix of cracks and frosted over with a thick sheet of ice.

Jacob kept tugging at the door. When he stopped, his breath was coming hard and fast again.

Lou stood a little ways off. He looked like a sentry, with Jacob’s rifle cradled in his arms. “It’s jammed, I guess,” he said. He sounded relieved.

Jacob peered in through the crack he’d made, then pulled his head back.

“Well?” Lou asked.

Jacob shook his head. “Too dark. One of you’ll have to go in and check it out.” He took off his glasses and wiped at his face with his hand.

“Hank’s the smallest,” Lou said quickly. “He’ll fit the easiest.” He winked at Jacob, then grinned toward me.

“I’m smaller than you?”

He patted his little stomach, the beginning of his paunch. “You’re thinner. That’s what counts.”

I looked toward Jacob for help but immediately saw that there’d be none forthcoming. He had a toothy smile on his face, his dimples cutting into his cheeks.

“What do you think, Jacob?” Lou asked.

Jacob started a little laugh but then stopped. “I can’t imagine you fitting, Lou,” he said seriously. “Not with that gut of yours.” They both turned to look at me, straight-faced.

“Why go in at all?” I asked. “What’s the point?”

Lou started to grin. A handful of crows flapped heavily into the air, changing trees. It seemed like the whole flock was watching us.

“Why not just get the dog,” I said, “then go into town and report this?”

“You scared, Hank?” Lou asked. He shifted the rifle from one arm to the other.

I watched myself cave in, disgusted by the spectacle. I heard a voice in my mind very clearly analyzing the situation, saying I was acting like a teenager, doing something pointless, even foolish, to prove my courage to these two men, neither of whom I respected. The voice went on and on, reasonable, rational, and I listened to it, agreeing with everything it had to say, while I strode angrily around the plane to its open door.

Jacob stepped back to give me room. I stuck my head inside the doorway, let my eyes adjust to the darkness. It seemed even tinier inside than it had outside. The air felt warm, and humid, too, like in a greenhouse. It gave me an eerie feeling. A thin stream of light entered from the tear in the fuselage and shot across the cabin’s darkened interior, like a weak flashlight beam, forming a tiny crescent moon against the opposite wall. The rear of the plane was almost completely dark, but it appeared to be empty, a bare metal floor growing narrower and narrower the farther back it went. Just inside the doorway was a large duffel bag lying on its side. If I’d reached in with my hand, I could’ve grabbed it and dragged it out.

Toward the front, I could see two seats, gray with the light filtering in through the ice-covered windshield. One of them was empty, but there was a man’s body slouched in the other, his head resting against the control panel.

I pulled my head out of the doorway.

“I can see him from here.”

Jacob and Lou stared at me. “Is he dead?” Jacob asked.

I shrugged. “We haven’t had snow since Tuesday, so he’s been out here for at least two days.”

“You aren’t going to check?” Lou asked.

“Let’s just get the dog,” I said impatiently. I didn’t want to go into the plane. It seemed stupid of them to make me.

“I think we ought to check.” Lou grinned.

“Come on, Lou. Cut the crap. He can’t be alive.”

“Two days isn’t that long,” Jacob said. “I’ve heard of people surviving stuff longer than that.”

“Especially in the cold,” Lou agreed. “It’s like keeping food in the refrigerator.”

I waited for the wink, but it didn’t come.

“Just go in and check him out,” Jacob said. “What’s the big deal?”

I frowned, feeling trapped. I stuck my head back inside the plane for a second, then pulled it out again. “Can you at least scrape the ice off the windshield?” I asked Jacob.

He gave a deep, theatrical sigh, more for Lou’s benefit than mine, but nevertheless shuffled off toward the front of the plane.

I started to squeeze my way in through the doorway. I turned sideways and slipped my head and shoulders inside, but when I got to my chest, the opening seemed suddenly to tighten, gripping me like a hand. I tried to pull back, only to find that my jacket and shirt were snagged. They bunched up under my armpits, exposing the skin above my pants to the cold air.

Jacob’s bulk darkened the windshield, and I heard him start to scrape at the ice with his glove. I watched, waiting for it to get lighter, but nothing happened. He started to pound—dull, heavy thuds that echoed through the plane’s fuselage like a heartbeat.

I exhaled as far as possible and lunged forward. The doorway’s grip moved from my sternum to just above my navel. I was about to try again, thinking that one more push would do it, that I could get in, examine the dead pilot, and get out as quickly as possible, when I saw a curious thing. The pilot appeared to be moving. His head, resting against the dashboard, seemed to be shaking ever so slightly back and forth.

“Hey,” I whispered. “Hey, buddy. You all right?” My voice echoed off the plane’s metal walls.

Jacob continued to pound against the glass. Thump. Thump. Thump.

“Hey,” I said, louder, slapping the fuselage with my glove.

I heard Lou move closer in the snow behind me.

“What?” he asked.

Jacob’s hand went thump, thump, thump.

The pilot’s head was motionless, and suddenly I wasn’t so sure. I tried to squeeze forward. Jacob stopped pounding.

“Tell him I can’t get it off,” he yelled.

“He’s stuck,” Lou said gleefully. “Look at this.”

I felt his hands grab me just above the waist. His fingers dug in, a rough attempt at tickling. I kicked out with my right leg, hitting air, and lost my footing in the snow. The doorway’s grip held me up. Lou’s and Jacob’s laughter came filtering inside, muted and far away.

“You do it,” Lou said to Jacob.

I was pushing and pulling now, not even sure which way I wanted to go, just trying to get free, my feet digging into the snow outside, the weight of my body rocking the plane, when there was a sudden flash of movement up front.

I couldn’t tell what it was at first. There was the sense of the pilot’s head being tossed to the side, then something exploding upward, rising and pounding frantically against the inside of the windshield. Not exactly pounding, I realized slowly, but fluttering. It was a bird, a large black crow, like the ones sitting in the apple trees outside.

It came off the windshield and settled on the rear of the pilot’s seat. I watched its head dart back and forth. Carefully, noiselessly, I tried to work my way backward out of the doorway. But then the bird was airborne again; it smacked once into the windshield, bounced off, and flew straight at me. I froze at the sight of it, simply watched it come, and only at the very last moment, just before it hit me, pulled my head down into my shoulders.

It struck me in the exact center of my forehead, hard, with what felt like its beak. I heard myself cry out—a short, sharp, canine sound—pulled back, then forward, somehow broke free from the doorway, and fell into the plane’s interior. I landed on the duffel bag and didn’t try to get up. The bird returned toward the front, bounced off the windshield, flew back toward the now open doorway, but veered to the right before reaching it, shooting up toward the jagged little hole in the fuselage. It perched there for a second, then wormed its way through like a rat and disappeared.

I heard Lou laugh. “Holy shit,” he said. “A fucking bird. You see that, Jake?”

I touched my forehead. It was burning a little, and my glove came away bloody. I slid off the duffel bag, which was hard and angular, as if it were full of books, and sat down on the floor of the plane. A rectangle of light from the open doorway fell across my legs.

Jacob stuck his head inside, his body blocking the light.

“You see that bird?” he asked. I could tell he was smiling, even though I couldn’t make out his face.

“It bit me.”

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Top reviews from the United States

Lorien Peterson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Couldn''t put this down!
Reviewed in the United States on February 23, 2021
This book... What would you do if you found 4.4 million dollars? I can tell you I definitely would NOT do what they did in this book. But, that being said, I couldn''t stop reading this. It was tragic, and fascinating. A fast paced thriller so well written I felt... See more
This book...
What would you do if you found 4.4 million dollars?
I can tell you I definitely would NOT do what they did in this book. But, that being said, I couldn''t stop reading this. It was tragic, and fascinating. A fast paced thriller so well written I felt in it. A part of it.
It''s written in the first person narrative of Hank. A small town guy, with an "honest" face. He''s happily married to a very smart and beautiful woman and they are expecting their first child. Hank, and his brother Jacob along with Jacob''s best friend come across a crashed plane and find 4.4 million dollars. They come up with a "simple plan" to keep the money. This plan becomes anything BUT simple.
I could not believe who Hank became, or the things that people will do when pushed, like really pushed, for money. How desperate they can become, how greedy. How obsessed.
The selfishness of this book was thought provoking. Seriously. You don''t think YOU could do some of these incredible things. But, how far WOULD you go to save your family? To protect them? To keep them together?
The way the writer takes you into the mind of this desperation and greed is infuriating, and fascinating. Hank get''s pushed into situations beyond imagination. And the decisions he makes are life altering.
I highly recommend reading this one, and personally after this story, I would NOT keep the money.
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jess
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good story, fast-paced, but has some flaws.
Reviewed in the United States on April 12, 2021
The story was good, and it was well-written, except for the fact that I couldn''t picture the narrator (Hank) or his wife, Sarah, for the life of me. I could picture their house, their baby, everything else but their faces. I didn''t like any of the characters and found... See more
The story was good, and it was well-written, except for the fact that I couldn''t picture the narrator (Hank) or his wife, Sarah, for the life of me. I could picture their house, their baby, everything else but their faces. I didn''t like any of the characters and found myself actually rooting for them to get caught. The only character in this story who has any real intelligence/quick-thinking skills is Sarah, Hank''s mysterious wife.

SPOILER ALERT ---- SPOILER ALERT------- STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON''T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING.--------

I don''t see why he felt like he had to burn the money at the end. And their luck just got worse and worse afterward. Sarah was right; they could have just left the country for a vacation and never returned. The US government didn''t have the means or technology to track someone down in the ''90s overseas based solely on bill serial numbers lol it was just a dumb ending, imo.
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JM Harvey
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A great book with a cast of horrors
Reviewed in the United States on October 4, 2017
This book sticks with you. when a plane full of dead men and millions of dollars crashes deep in the back country woods, a pair of brothers (one trying to achieve the middle class dream and overcome his back wood roots, the other wallowing happily in low-income obscurity)... See more
This book sticks with you. when a plane full of dead men and millions of dollars crashes deep in the back country woods, a pair of brothers (one trying to achieve the middle class dream and overcome his back wood roots, the other wallowing happily in low-income obscurity) and the hapless brother''s friend steal the cash and swear to keep it hidden away until it can be safely spent. Of course the ne''er do well pair can''t stick to the plan and a murderous series of events leaves many dead. Very well written and meticulously plotted as the spiral of events turns everyone against everyone with a surprise ending that I won''t relate but brings neat closure to the book. My only problem with this is my own set of literary prejudices: I found it hard to like the main character or any of the others. I can live with that if I can revile and respect them, but these three fell short of that. But Scott Smith has a lot of talent and is well worth the read.
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whj
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
messy, repetitive, boring
Reviewed in the United States on June 4, 2020
From reading good reviews, I expected an intelligent, intriguing story about a simple plan gone wrong, with clever twists and poignant irony. I found one interesting twist in the whole book and the rest is just frustrating and messy and not convincing at all. The best I... See more
From reading good reviews, I expected an intelligent, intriguing story about a simple plan gone wrong, with clever twists and poignant irony. I found one interesting twist in the whole book and the rest is just frustrating and messy and not convincing at all. The best I can say about this book is that it would have been a good, Tarantino movie if it was a shorter, more poetic, hyperbolic book about mind blinding human greed with ultra tragic and ironic consequences. But this book tries to be serious instead, the narrator is not believable, not very relatable. I kept waiting for some unpredictable turn other than blood and more blood, but after the half into the book, I just focused on finishing it.
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Nik Valen
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Skip the book, watch the movie
Reviewed in the United States on August 22, 2021
The book recommendation from Stephen King should have been a red flag I gave this 3 stars and not 2 because it was the inspiration for one of my favorite movies. I had hoped to read the book to get even more context and detail to what I found to be an engrossing... See more
The book recommendation from Stephen King should have been a red flag

I gave this 3 stars and not 2 because it was the inspiration for one of my favorite movies. I had hoped to read the book to get even more context and detail to what I found to be an engrossing story and compelling characters. Unfortunately, the book pales to the movie screen play. There is no character development, the story is really flawed and non-sensical (see below) which fortunately the screen play fixed and it is exceedingly dark and violent, unnecessarily so.

The characters, so wonderfully brought to life in the movie, are like cardboard cutouts. You don''t know these people, who they are, how they feel, why they are doing what they are doing, even as the main character progresses to increasingly gruesome acts of violence.

Basically, if you like every book Stephen King wrote (including the majority of which that are bad), you will love this one. If you are looking for rich characters, a thought provoking narrative and a compelling ending, chances are you may be wasting your time with this book. I know I did.

[SPOILER ALERT]

In the movie, there is a character arc where the main character progresses, or perhaps spirals to a point where, through happenstance, bad decisions, impulse, greed or a combination of all of the above, he confronts the fact that he *may* have become evil, from his misdeeds. This is still largely ambiguous as he retains emotion, sympathy, guilt etc. In the book, the main character is a stone-cold, emotionless sociopath, right *from the beginning*, who shotguns his own brother, barely without a thought, in the process of cold-bloodedly murdering an innocent neighbor in a very sadistic way (forcing him to strip first and beating him). Later in the book he murders another two innocent people in a convenience store with a machete. Really?

Don''t you think the odds of having 1 of 10, $100 bills get traced back to his wife just based on camera footage in a store (assuming they even flagged the bill) would have been less than that of being caught in a store brandishing a machete (and risking having to use it - which he did, twice)? Don''t you think the clerk will call the cops, run out to see your plates, shoot you, etc? It is beyond non-sensical to just plain stupid.
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Rorke
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Naysayers of the book and movie seem to have missed the point.
Reviewed in the United States on October 21, 2013
NO SPOILERS HERE.......I saw the movie several years back, enjoyed it, and decided to give the book a try. The price is right, and it read on Kindle with only one typo I could spot. I am surprised at the naiveté of many of the 1 star reviewers for each product.... See more
NO SPOILERS HERE.......I saw the movie several years back, enjoyed it, and decided to give the book a try. The price is right, and it read on Kindle with only one typo I could spot.

I am surprised at the naiveté of many of the 1 star reviewers for each product. Here''s why:

A quick look at the book or movie A Simple Plan makes it clear this isn''t a happy story. It''s obviously a tragedy, so why put it down for not being cheery?

Reviewers are bewailing the actions of the main characters, saying "Real people don''t act that way," or "No one is that stupid." I disagree. Real people act in ways that can be impossible to predict. The first murder in the story involves an impulsive attack and an equally impulsive effort to cover it up and to protect himself and another. The essence of this story is a cascade into tragedy. One action leads to another, meant to cover the previous one up, and so on. If you can believe the opening act, you can believe it all went downhill from there.

It''s not for nothing that people say, "The love of money is the root of all evil." Otherwise good people will lie and cheat over money, even a small amount. I had a guy lie about a car accident he caused (he hit me), because he didn''t want to pay damages and higher premiums. My insurance company was able to prove he was lying. Our upstanding neighbor told my dad to lie to his insurance company so they''d pay to have 40+ trees removed that came down in a storm. He said to damage our own roof so they''d pay for everything. My ex took a whole bunch of valuable stuff from a friend''s apartment after his suicide. The ex''s friend took stuff, plus the dead guy''s van. My coworker and his wife have found a way to cheat on grocery coupons. People also gamble. A lot. Cash is a big draw. It''s not a stretch to believe that someone could, on the spur of the moment, kill others over 4 million dollars, and then continue to do so to keep from getting caught.

No one''s that stupid? LOL Of course they are! Google "stupid criminals." Pick up a true crime book or check the news anywhere. You''ll find an untold number of cases where people are dumb enough to think they can get away with a crime. How about druggies who call the cops to report a robbery - of their drugs? The guy whose skeleton was found years after death in a chimney - he was trying to break into the house. bank robbers who leave behind a note - with their name on it?

So, what''s the point I said they missed? That people are capable of who knows what when large amounts of money are at stake. The characters came up with one "simple plan" which, due to mistrust and greed, devolved into another and yet another "simple plan." This story illustrated just how fast relationships can break down over greed.

My only problem with the book was the last violent scene. The magnitude of the crime, the setting, and the manner of death all seemed out of sync with the rest of the narrative. I imagine that''s why this scene wasn''t in the movie. Overall, though, a gripping page turner.
22 people found this helpful
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HT Aaron
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Book''s Good but the Movie''s Better
Reviewed in the United States on April 21, 2021
I bought the book because I finally got around to seeing the 1998 movie with Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda. Compared to the movie, the book feels kind of drawn out. It''s also darker and more violent. The movie''s definitely a much tighter... See more
I bought the book because I finally got around to seeing the 1998 movie with Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda.

Compared to the movie, the book feels kind of drawn out. It''s also darker and more violent. The movie''s definitely a much tighter story and the ending feels like a better fit to the story. Regardless, Smith''s a very good writer and the book and the movie were both worth my entertainment dollars.

Recommended.
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S. Warfield
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One of the best I''ve read in suspense
Reviewed in the United States on June 29, 2013
Reading Scott Smith''s "A Simple Plan" is like being on a train with no brakes. What starts out as a simple plan made by Hank, his brother Jacob and Jacob''s best friend, Lou, turns into a complicated plot that leads to disaster as the conspiracy involves more and more people... See more
Reading Scott Smith''s "A Simple Plan" is like being on a train with no brakes. What starts out as a simple plan made by Hank, his brother Jacob and Jacob''s best friend, Lou, turns into a complicated plot that leads to disaster as the conspiracy involves more and more people and more crime than their small town in Ohio has ever seen. The characters'' behavior is shockingly unbelievable at times because these "nice, ordinary guys" had never been in trouble. That was before they stumbled upon the wreckage of a small single-engine plane and a duffel bag behind the dead pilot that contained $4.4 million.

The actions of the three men are so surprising because they''re "normal guys." Hank is an accountant at a feed store, married with a new little daughter, and although his brother is fairly poor and not ambitious, he had never been in trouble. Lou drank a little too much, but he had a home and a girlfriend, but Hank had trouble trusting his brother and Lou. The three stood around the plane trying to decide what to do, whether to turn in the money and report the plane, put the money back in the plane and say nothing, or keep the money. It was just a simple plan that Hank came up with. But things didn''t go simply and as one disastrous act leads to another it becomes a complex story with actions by these three men that are hardly believable in the context of the story.

"A Simple Plan" is about what happens to people when greed, selfishness and jealousy take over and how people rationalize their greed with words and thoughts that disguise it and make it into something that seems acceptable to them. They even rationalize terrible acts of violence as being necessary for the good of someone else when that altruistic thought is still a crime. These characters seem very real and the reader learns a lot about them over the course of the 416 pages that just fly by. Scott Smith put the story together so that there isn''t a single loose end left untied and the story flows at such a good pace that reading it is like watching it all play out in front of your eyes without skipping a beat. This is an excellent book and a wonderful debut novel (1993) of suspense that I really loved and enjoyed. It took a lot of creativity, thought and talent to come up with this plot.

The book is very dark in mood as is Scott Smith''s other frightening book, The Ruins .
He knows how to set the mood, introduce his characters and pace the book just right, and the writing is excellent.

Highly recommended for suspense/mystery/thriller readers.
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Top reviews from other countries

Jason Yip
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Simple Pla(i)n reading novel
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 2, 2013
After struggling but finishing the classic "Wuthering Heights", I wanted something easy to read. A friend at work suggest A SIMPLE PLAN, as she''d read it - and she''s a slow reader who is critical of any book that doesn''t grip her within a couple of chapters. PREMISE I...See more
After struggling but finishing the classic "Wuthering Heights", I wanted something easy to read. A friend at work suggest A SIMPLE PLAN, as she''d read it - and she''s a slow reader who is critical of any book that doesn''t grip her within a couple of chapters. PREMISE I thought the premise of the story was rather weak, or at least it didn''t automatically make me think that it would give way to an amazing story. Two brothers and a friend find $4.4m in a plane, in the middle of nowhere. It''s not exactly a gripping premise such as "man is stabbed to death in a room that''s locked from the inside". In many respects, the very average premise does give rise to an average story - so why have I rated the novel 4/5 overall? Well, it''s not because of the premise! STYLE This is where Scott Smith scores exceptional high from me. The story is told from Hank''s perspective, i.e. in first person. The descriptions are always very well written, and nothing is given away too soon on how Hank is going to behave. Despite knowing every step of the way what Hank''s going to do (or thinks he''s going to do!), we are never sure it''s going to work out because he obviously cannot predict other people''s nature, which is what makes the book very compelling. The next category I look at (characterisation) is really what makes the book special enough to garner 4 stars from me; but the style of writing is what allows the author to weave a story that feels fresh. STORY The story is told in a way that it feels biographical. Despite some deaths, the narrator never goes into gory details - the story is definitely not about a serial killer, or even someone who''s "turning into a serial killer". The title of the story is true to itself all the way through: Hank always maintains that they must absolutely wait it out, find out if the money is truly unmarked or not, and whether anyone is looking for it. Hence "the simple plan" - waiting it out. Even towards the end of the story, Hank is still holding onto this simple plan - it''s only just before the last epic scene (missing from the film) that he''s no longer sticking to the plan. CHARACTERISATION From the outset, we know that Hank is someone who takes few risks, and prefers to be in control as much as possible. Hence he works as an accountant, which lets him control his financial situation but also at the expense of appearing a little boring with life''s choices. Hank never deviates from his characterisation - the first time they almost get rumbled, he does his best to cover up the death of an innocent man purely to protect his social circle. A few readers have commented that Hank is "like a sadistic killer"; but that''s far from true if you read the novel for its characterisations. Everything Hank does is to give him (and his wife) reasons to keep the money or not; any deaths along the way are a ''necessary'' small cog in the giant machine that''s turning. Lou''s character is one of the most interesting in the story, as he''s the complete opposite of Hank - impulsive, a bad gambler, always taking risks, an alcoholic. ENDING If you''ve watched the film, then you''ve missed out on a truly epic ending (which I won''t spoil for you). The ending isn''t anything breathtaking, but it fits in with the premise of the story as well as the reason for the story. It also doesn''t feel rushed (but is certainly not dragged on), so you''re given ample time to take in what''s been happening. Despite all the things that Hank has done, the story never concludes that he''s "numb to it all" - it''s more a case that his life of predictability was completely upset by the one-in-a-million chance of finding $4.4m that they (he, his wife, his brother, their friend & friend''s partner) could keep. OVERALL The novel gets 4/5 from me because it''s a simple story told in an effective way. It took me longer than an evening to finish it, so I''d consider it a standard sized novel (Patricia Cornwell''s "Post Mortem" took a short evening to read, that''s how small it is). If you''re after a well fleshed-out story and aren''t bothered by the lack of twists or lack of plot devices, and you like strong characterisations and descriptions - then this is the book for you. Do not read if you''re after a story with an amazing plot or premise.
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MikesFilmTalk
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Simple Plan by Scott Smith: Not so Simple
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 17, 2013
A Simple Plan is Scott Smith''s first book. It caused a lot of fuss when it hit the book stands and after reading it, I can see why. I''ve actually reversed into this debut novel of Smith''s because I read The Ruins first and fell in love with his story telling abilities based...See more
A Simple Plan is Scott Smith''s first book. It caused a lot of fuss when it hit the book stands and after reading it, I can see why. I''ve actually reversed into this debut novel of Smith''s because I read The Ruins first and fell in love with his story telling abilities based on that novel. The book has been called "A compulsive thriller which also happens to be a beautifully written and original work of art" Robert Harris. I believe him. It''s such an accurate description of Smith''s writing style and of the story itself that the publishers have pasted it across the front of the paperback version of the book. If you look at the Wikipedia plot description, it is a bit too simple, straightforward and a little misleading. From Wikipedia: Three men find an airplane crashed in a forest. The pilot is dead and the cockpit contains a gym bag with $4.4 million in one-hundred-dollar notes. They decide to keep the money, dividing it equally, but their plans go wrong when others come close to discovering their secret, resulting in multiple murders. Now that description would catch my interest, but it is not what the book is really about. Hank Mitchell lives in a rural area of America. He is married and his wife Sarah is expecting their first baby. His brother Jacob, a behemoth of a man, is one of life''s under achievers. Jacob''s best friend is drunken wastrel Lou. Lou doesn''t like Hank and the feeling is mutual. Hank and Jacob''s parents commit suicide when the farm that their father owned got into financial difficulties. The two brothers have little in common and don''t even like each other very much. Hank is an accountant and the only bright spark in his life is his pregnant wife. Hank, Jacob and Lou make an uneasy trio of men thrown together by familial ties, circumstance and financial similarities. Hank, despite being the only employed member of this little group is basically easily led and taken advantage of. He is not strong enough morally or physically to make a stand for himself. Then one snowy morning all three men are in a pickup truck when Jacob''s dog (a male named Mary Beth) jumps out of the truck to chase a fox. Both fox and dog disappear into the woods and the men go to find Mary Beth. Once in the woods they find a small crashed aircraft. They also find a dead pilot and duffel bag stuffed with money. Hank takes control of the situation and decides that if they hold onto the money for six months it will then be safe for them to split the cash and no one will be the wiser. With explicit instructions to not tell anyone about what they''ve found, Hank becomes the "keeper" of the money. Stress, dire financial situations, lack of secrecy and trust all begin to take their toll on the three men and as events snowball out of control, things turn murderous. This story had me gripped from the first page. Smith paints a brilliant picture of small town life and the people who inhabit it. His painting of the three (four counting Sarah) main characters made them so real and complete I felt badly for them when things got so out of hand. Hank was the main protagonist and it doesn''t take long to see that he really is not up to the task at hand. Sarah becomes a big player in the action by first acting as his sounding board and then later taking a more active role in events. This tale of greed, fear and mass murder was made into a film in 1998 by Sam Raimi, starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda, if it is one-quarter as good as the book, I have to see it. This was a brilliant book. A real 5 out of 5 stars for originality and for characters that leapt off the page at you, they seemed so real. If you don''t read any thing else this year, read this book. While the title may be A Simple Plan, the story itself is not so simple. You can read all my reviews at MikesFilmTalk.com
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Gary E
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A good read that builds suspense well and escalates like a ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 19, 2017
A good read that builds suspense well and escalates like a thriller. The hardback I ordered was a good quality print that appears to have lasted for many years.
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Matthew Saunders
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 20, 2021
Fantastic book.
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Andy Hansford
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Slow and tedious. I was struggling half way when the film ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 1, 2014
Slow and tedious. I was struggling half way when the film came on the telly. That was better, never went back to the book. The way the central character builds up to the final stance he takes, how he gradually changes, other reviews overstate how good this is. I liked parts...See more
Slow and tedious. I was struggling half way when the film came on the telly. That was better, never went back to the book. The way the central character builds up to the final stance he takes, how he gradually changes, other reviews overstate how good this is. I liked parts of this book, but I never regretted not finishing it, which should tell you all.
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