Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review of Daniel Palmer's Constant Fear

Constant Fear by Daniel Palmer (Kensington, May 2015)

I hope your Thanksgiving preparations are going smoothly. My own are chugging along. I got a little panicky when I realized my list of things to do before I leave Wednesday morning won't all fit onto one page, but, hey, I can sleep on the plane. Right now, I'm going to take a break to talk about Daniel Palmer's Constant Fear. I'll tell you about an Italian police procedural a little later.

Why is it bad action movies can still be entertaining, but poorly written action thrillers are annoying? Finding a decent thriller to read is tough. When I saw Strand Magazine's Top Ten Books of 2015 (see Note below), I was hopeful about the books I hadn't read because I'd already enjoyed some of the others. (I recently showed you Chris Holm's The Killing Kind, in which you root for a nice-guy hit man (see review here.)

In Palmer's Constant Fear, we meet a man who has suffered some debilitating losses. Jake Dent's promising pro baseball career ended when his drunken car accident injured his pitching arm. After their young son, Andy, was diagnosed with diabetes, Jake's wife left. Jake, who found comfort in taking up survivalism and teaching these skills to Andy, has brought his life under control. He's slowly developing a romantic relationship with a cop in Winston, Massachusetts, and is head custodian at the elite Pepperell Academy, where the 16-year-old Andy is a student.

Andy and a few geeky friends have formed a group they call "the Shire." They've been running a Robin Hood operation by hacking into accounts of Pepperell parents so wealthy they don't notice the theft. But now there's a problem. It's as if the Shire has cast a fishing line into a mud puddle and hooked Moby-Dick. They've stolen millions in bitcoins that need to be returned immediately, but the money has somehow disappeared. None of the kids will admit to knowing what happened to it. They realize they're in big trouble––but they have no idea. The bitcoins don't actually belong to that Pepperell parent. Some very bad men come to Winston, hellbent on getting that money back. 

Try this contraption while thriller reading
The mouth breathing you need to do while reading this book is kinda hard when you're also gulping at some fairly grim scenes. Constant Fear isn't actually as brutal a book as one I told you about yesterday, Jason Matthews's Palace of Treason. The tension feels almost unbearable, though, because of Palmer's skill at conveying the threat of violence. Despite some curveballs the writer throws us, the plot is sometimes predictable, and the characters, physical setting, and events very contrived. I actually found myself exclaiming, "Oh, c'mon! What are the odds?" But those occasional objections to unreality really didn't matter. I liked Jake and the relationship he has with his son. Palmer had me staying up late, breathlessly turning those pages, and I didn't once feel like throwing the book across the room.

Note: Here is Strand Magazine's Top Ten Books of 2015. (Don't ask me why there are twelve on the list.)

The Killing Kind by Chris Holm (Mulholland Books)
Solitude Creek by Jeffrey Deaver (Grand Central)
The Fixer by Joseph Finder (Dutton)
Broken Promises by Linwood Barclay (NAL)
Dark Places by Reavis Z. Wortham (Poisoned Pen)
A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd (William Morrow)
Constant Fear by Daniel Palmer (Kensington)
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)
All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer (Minotaur)
The Stranger by Harlan Coben (Dutton)
The Hot Countries by Tim Hallinan (Soho)
Dead Student by John Katzenbach (Mysterious)


  1. Shoot, I've only read ONE of those top books: All the Old Knives. But at least I agree it was great.

    1. Yeah, Steinhauer's All the Old Knives is wonderful: Two spies, former lovers, sit down at a restaurant table and sharpen their knives on each other during dinner to discover the truth of a bungled espionage operation.

      I've read Finder's The Fixer, Barclay's Broken Promises, and Wortham's Dark Places in addition to Holm's The Killing Kind. They were all fun reads. I'm really looking forward to reading Hallinan's The Hot Countries because I enjoy the wittiness and atmospheric location of the Poke Rafferty books.