09 November 2014

Power Play by Catherine Coulter

In some ways I think I'm still digesting my latest read, Catherine Coulter's Power Play. It's the latest in her series of FBI Thrillers. I'd never actually heard of her or her series before, but it was new and looked interesting, so I thought: why not? Before NaNoWriMo began I was working on a thriller (at least, it might be a thriller - still not sure), and once I finish WITH RANDOM PRECISION, I am going to return to it. I've been exploring the genre as able.

Power Play has quite a cast of characters, and a very deep sense of history between them, none of which I had been exposed to. I felt very lost, jumping in so late, but at least the hook was intriguing: an assassination attempt on a US Ambassador.

What intrigued me was the element of the paranormal in the book: one of the FBI agents apparently has The Shining, while the madman he was pursuing was able to hypnotize people at a glance. I imagine there was all sorts of backstory to both of these things, but without having read it, I actually found it ever so slightly preposterous.

The answer to the book's mystery was so obvious that I actually completely discounted it, and was therefore surprised when the big reveal occurred - actually kind of a brilliant technique. I learned so much reading Power Play, even if I didn't really love it. It took me ten days to finish - an eternity, when I usually finish things in a day or two.

A lot of the things I've learned I haven't really quantified yet, but here are a few of my takeaways:

The importance of deeply-held secrets: most of the big reveals came out of some secret that one character or another had hidden from everyone: their family, their friends, everyone. And they always seemed to come out of left field. Sometimes they had even been playing the opposite the whole time.

Throwaway comments become important: This was another thing that was intriguing to me. In mysteries, every comment can have import, but the craft of mystery seems to rely on either emphasis (when the protagonist finds a clue) or misdirection (when he/she finds a red herring). Instead, in the thriller, pertinent information is overshadowed by the life-or-death stakes. Characters (and readers) don't realize a clue has been given because they're too busy running for their lives.

Deep betrayals from supposed friends: This one was perhaps most interesting to me, but also one I had been planning anyway. In the case of Power Play, it was a life-long friend who betrayed one of the other characters, and I definitely didn't see it coming, because it was so left-field.

All in all, Power Play was useful, and I'll have to check some of the earlier books in the series. By all accounts, The Maze and The Cove seem to be highly regarded, and as I understand it they introduced the characters.