A quick glance at Kim Powers’ credits—the screenplay for indie flick Finding North, senior writer for TV’s 20/20, Emmy and Peabody Awards for his reporting on 9/11 for Good Morning America, books like The History of Swimming: A Memoir and Capote in Kansas—and it is clear that this is a professional, the kind of writer that raises great expectations for any new work. Expectations that his initial entry into the thriller market, Dig Two Graves, does not disappoint. Powers knows his business.
Dig Two Graves has everything you would expect from a seasoned thriller pen: cliff hangers, surprises, twists, and red herrings. It has the kind of plot that makes a book hard to put down. Ethan “Hercules” Holt is an ex-Olympian decathlete now teaching Classics at a prestigious New England college. His wife had been killed in a freak car accident, and he has been left to raise his young daughter Skip, now in her early teens. One day he comes home from class to discover that Skip has been kidnapped in what appears to be an act of vengeance, although Ethan can’t identify anyone who would have a grudge against him. He soon learns that in order to get his daughter back, the kidnapper is going to force him to live up to his nickname and perform modern versions of the 12 labors of Hercules. Indeed, the legend of Hercules provides an archetypal frame for Powers’ tale.
Powers is adept at creating believable characters: the distraught father willing to do anything to save his daughter, the brave young girl holding back her tears as she tries to understand what is happening to her, the demented villain obsessed with ancient wrongs. Add a cast of minor figures, a sympathetic police woman with a child of her own, a teaching assistant with his own agenda, a love interest that causes some friction between father and daughter, and you have everything necessary for an impressive debut.
In the best tradition, the narrative runs back and forth between the point of view of Ethan, Skip, and the kidnapper, allowing Powers to take one narrator to take the reader to the edge, and cut him off by moving to another. This kind of narrative structure may be conventional, but it is conventional for a reason. It works. It is to Powers’ credit, that he uses the conventions of the thriller with intelligence. He may be manipulating, but there is an art to his manipulation. An art that makes Dig Two Graves one heck of a read.