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Onyx reviews: Hostage by Robert Crais

Some days, nothing goes right. While on the way to see a movie, three miscreants commit an unplanned robbery. In a neighborhood with virtually no violent crime, they pick a store where the owner has been robbed numerous times in a different location. He knows trouble when he sees it coming through the door and is ready to defend his possessions. The robbery ends in violence.

Then their getaway vehicle breaks down close to the crime scene. The trio, brothers Dennis and Kevin plus their oddly quiet accomplice Mars, clamber over a fence into a suburban neighborhood looking for transportation. They break into a house because music is blaring from an upstairs window. Music means there's someone at home, which probably means there's a car. All they want to do is get away. Go to Mexico, perhaps, until things blow over. Things always blow over, they believe naively.

The three hoods have no way of knowing they are making the worst mistake of their lives. A police officer on his way to the convenience store crime scene spots their broken down truck. He follows his instincts and soon the fugitives are trapped inside the house with Walter Smith and his two children. Local, county and federal officers surround them. News helicopters circle overhead. There seems to be no possible way out alive.

Jeff Talley, formerly a hostage negotiator for the LAPD is the police chief of sleepy Bristo Camino. Death equals failure for a negotiator, even the death of a perpetrator. Talley is haunted by a hostage situation that went bad a couple of years earlier, resulting in the death of a young boy. He quit his job and retreated from life, exasperating his wife and young daughter. Finally, he moved away from them to take over the small police force in this quiet community. Talley spends many working hours sitting in his police car in an isolated peach orchard trying to figure out how things went so wrong, wondering if he can ever put his life back together again. Unable to escape his past, he ends up at the telephone again, negotiating for the lives of the three hostages with Dennis Rooney, recently released from prison and frightened beyond belief.

Unbeknownst to any of the principals, someone else has a vested interest in the hostage situation—Walter Smith has organized crime ties and the mob will do anything to prevent certain things in the house—including over a million dollars in cash—from falling into police hands. The mobsters are incredibly well connected and well versed at forcing people to cooperate. They insert representatives into the crime scene and begin to turn the screws on Talley, who is caught in the middle of a situation that is becoming increasingly volatile. Suddenly his family is at risk, as well as the hostages inside the house, forcing him to mask his plans from the other police on the scene. To make matters worse, one of the three perpetrators is an overheating boiler that could explode at any second.

This taut thriller spans less than twenty-four hours. The fast pacing and relentless turns of events will keep readers glued to the page. Other than Talley, the characters are not complex, but their motivations are clear and the entire plot moves towards the inevitable conclusion with the force of a freight train at the speed of a jet.

Hostage is the latest thriller from Robert Crais (pronounced Crayse), who has written a series of eight novels featuring detective Elvis Cole. Crais will write another Cole novel after finishing the screenplay adaptation of Hostage for Bruce Willis's production company.

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