DeeBrief review: The Accident by Chris Pavone

Set in the publishing world, The Accident goes from the slush pile to a Bourne Identity–style chase through New York. But are the stakes really that high?

The Accident

“‘You think that has something to do with the manuscript?’
‘I do. Isabel does.’
‘What? Why?’
‘Because it can’t be a coincidence that the morning after the girl finishes reading the bombshell, someone shoots her in the head. In her own apartment.’

– The Accident, Chris Pavone

What if one of the most powerful men in the world had a secret, scandalous past? And what if that man could be brought down by a single manuscript? Literary agent Isabel Reed and editor Jeff Fielder are about to find out—and they could pay with their lives—in Chris Pavone’s thriller The Accident. Set in the publishing world, The Accident goes from the slush pile to a Bourne Identity–style chase through New York. But are the stakes really that high?

An anonymous author has a mysterious and apparently nonfiction manuscript delivered to a literary agent. The agent can’t put the scathing exposé about worldwide media mogul Charlie Wolf down. She pitches it to a receptive editor: the book discusses an accident (of course) that was covered up, among other, far-reaching allegations. People with a copy of the damning manuscript start dying. Isabel’s assistant, Jeff’s publisher, a fact-checker, a spurned subrights director with an eye to pitching the book in Hollywood. . . they’re all targets. Isabel and Jeff find themselves dumping cell phones, hopping in and out of subways, and hightailing it to the country—with the manuscript intact. They want to rush it to publication if it’s really true. And they have a surprising connection to the anonymous author.

If this book had been set in the 80s or 90s, it would have been more absorbing. Keeping the paper copy safe, secret copies being made, high speed chases, and gripping scenes set in Europe as an ex-CIA operative tracks down the author while his colleagues hunt for Isabel, makes for a quick, entertaining read. But the premise doesn’t work in a post-Wikileaks world. The author doesn’t have financial motivation, caring about the truth and not a big payoff. So the fact that the internet plays no part in his grand plans to expose Wolf is nonsensical. The lack of any sort of electronic copying of the manuscript, that it’s delivered on paper at all rather than as an email or even on a USB memory stick, to be immediately disseminated to the public, or to a rival news organization, is tone deaf and thoughtless. There is simply no plausible reason for the high body count and the desperate necessity of the bad guys to get the extant paper copies back. The entire point of the book falls apart.

The adverb-happy, heavily descriptive writing also detracts. While a noir pastiche could work for this kind of thriller, it’s laid on too thick: “Isabel walks past the cashier and around the fast-food counter, the stench of nitrates laying siege to her nostrils, hot dogs rotating on their bed of steel rods. The bathroom is incomprehensibly large,” Pavone writes, filling in his narrative with so much unnecessary detail. Or “The coffee machine hisses and sputters the final drops, big plops falling into the tempered glass. Isabel glances at the contraption’s clock, changing from 5:48 to 5:49, in the corner of the neatly organized counter, a study in right angles of brushed stainless steel.”

The glimpses into the behind-the-scenes world of publishing are well done and quite realistic. Because of the Dan Brown-style cliffhangers and relentless pursuit of the main characters, as well as the interesting excerpts from the sought-after manuscript, this book is a quick read. Had it been set in a pre-internet era and trimmed of its lavishly descriptive tendencies, it might have made for a better read.

Two out of five blue pencils

The Accident by Chris Pavone, published in Canada by Crown, © 2014

Available at AmazonIndigo, and at fine independent bookstores everywhere via Indiebound.

Book provided to me by Crown in exchange for a fair review.

DeeBrief reviews are shorter reviews that give you a concise snapshot of my reaction to the book.


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5 thoughts on “DeeBrief review: The Accident by Chris Pavone

  1. Very interesting review. This book is at the top of my TBR list and so many people have raved about it. I’m glad to see a different opinion. I’m going to read it, but will be interested to see what I think about the writing!

  2. We talked about this a bit at Cheesewerks so you know my thoughts match up pretty well with yours on this one. Particularly the “adverb happy” bit.

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