In They’re Watching, Gregg Hurwitz has written another humdinger of a thriller. I don’t use that term loosely. They’re Watching physically exhausted me as I clung to the book, white-knuckled and insanely curious, and made my way through the winding trail of clues and murders page by page with anxiety that increased like a house on fire.
The opening set piece where screenwriter Patrick Davis shows up at a house with a butcher knife under his thigh and someone throws a grenade into his lap was intense. But I think the novel could just as well have opened with the mysterious DVD that arrived in the newspaper. That DVD shows footage of Patrick in his house – and it’s no more than a couple days old.
Hurwitz hooked me with style, reached out and grabbed my attention, and made me think I could easily figure out everything that was going on. Man, I was wrong. Again and again, I was wrong, wrong, and wrong. Every time I thought I had a handle on who was doing what to whom, the ground beneath me shifted and I had a whole new view of the horizon.
They’re Watching may be the most intricately plotted Hurwitz novel ever, and Patrick Davis one of his most compelling characters. In some ways, character has to be sacrificed for the streamlined rush of a suspense novel. Patrick isn’t a deep guy on the page. The reader never finds out everything about him or his wife, but enough is presented that he feels like someone the reader knows. Patrick is a guy that everyone can care about. He’s not superhuman, doesn’t have an ex-spy bag of tricks or a friend who’s in Special Forces to guard his back while he figures things out.
The people in Patrick’s life for the most part are just as ordinary as he is. His fellow teachers at college are well done, on stage just enough and to such a degree that they were people I know. I loved how commonplace they were, yet knew just enough to help here and there. And I loved the humor and compassion they showed him.
I felt the relationship betweeen Patrick and his wife Ariana was a little too manufactured, especially the infidelity that broke them apart, but that angle served the plot well enough. The relationship (especially with the broken dashboard in the car) should provide a good visual in a movie – which is where this story should ultimately end up.
Another key element of the story is the setting. This novel simply couldn’t have taken place in any other location. It had to be LA. Hollywood had to be around the corner. Actors/actresses had to be readily available. There had to be room to run and ecological concerns and the threat of corporate business.
I had a great time with They’re Watching. The noose around Patrick’s neck grew tighter and tighter, and the ways he (Hurwitz too!) figured out to get out from under the murder frame and stay out of jail were ingenious. This book is simply so well plotted that I don’t think anyone will figure out everything, but the pieces fit together as well and as prettily as a Turkish ring puzzle.
To get a Hitchcockian movie experience trapped between book covers, Gregg Hurwitz is a craftsman and master stylist. Block out plenty of time for this one, folks, he’s gonna nail you to your chair and fill your brain with questions and what-ifs.