Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Book Report: Two Minute Rule

Authors seem to get noticed with movies made from their work. Considering your average person doesn't read many books this seems to be the way writers get their names out there. I admit that's how I found out about a lot of authors myself, and that is exactly how I discovered Robert Crais. "Hostage" came out last year to mediocre box office and deservedly bad critical reaction. This was based on a 2001 novel by Crais that I read about a week before the movie came out and knew damn well it was going to be a terrible movie. It was an entertaining novel however, but the problem with translating Crais, who sells pretty well in the mainstream, is he likes to throw everything at you including the kitchen sink. He creates many, many colorful charcters that are hard to leave out of a script because they end up all being central to the plot or plots. He also interweaves many plots in most of his works that make for an exciting read but become frustrating when trying to make a 2 hour film around them.

That being said, filmmakers might have a better shot with his latest, "Two Minute Rule," but unfortunately we, as readers, kind of have to suffer. It's as if Crais realized all of his complexities and decided to make his next novel a little more simple so he could get another movie deal. I don't know this for a fact, of course, but with the drastic change of pace in this book, one can wonder.

Two Minute Rule tells the story of former bank robber, Max Holman. Holman got away with robbing a series of banks, but was finally caught because he stayed behind and saved a guy's life who passed out after having a gun pointed in his face by Holman. Holman has just been released to discover that his son, who's childhood he missed due to being in jail, became a police officer and became a victim of a brutal shooting that killed three of his fellow officers along with him. Holman has a sense that things are not right when a token puerto rican stereotype is given the rap for the murder and conviently kills himself, and decides to do a little investigation on his own with the help of a former FBI agent, Katherine Pollard. Pollard was agent who nabbed Holman years back and sent him to jail.

Conspiracies abound in this story as it looks like there might be some law officials connected to the slaying of his son, and it all leads back to another series of bank robbings a few months before the story starts that led to a unrecovered sum somewhere short of 16 million dollars.

Crais is best, as he usually is, with nice subtle moments admist all of the action. Holman and Pollard's relationship ends up being the best thing about the novel. Pollard's interest in Holman's quest to find his son's killer is sincere and makes sense. After all, she only caught Holman because he was saving someone else's life; he never seemed like the typical bank robber to her.

However, everything else about this novel is pretty much a cliche. Stereotypes run amok (Corrupt Officials, Cranky Landlords, Stupid cops who won't give Holman the time of day even though he obviously knows more than they do,etc.). I also didn't get plot contrivances like Holman's need for Pollard because he doesn't know how to go about getting clues and conducting any kind of investigation, but then halfway through the novel he's the one figuring everything out.

And once again I go back to the simple mindedness of the plot. This is a story we've read many, many times before. There's nothing new or interesting to say here, and an author of Crais's pedigree shouldn't be wasting his time with stuff like this. Leave this trite storytelling for the James Pattersons and Sue Graftons of the world. Crais's previous novels read like a season of "24" where it's so fast paced and filled with so many rich characters that the plot holes simply pass you by and go unnoticed. Here, you notice every weakness Crais possess in setting up the most simple of mysteries. Crais's strength is writing well thought out characters; Two Minute Rule is completely plot driven like every pointless Hollywood thriller we've seen over the last decade (ala "The Sentinel).

The title of the book stems from the time most bank robbers have in the bank before the cops arrive and they are caught. I would go on to say it's also the time it took Crais to come up with this story. For Crais diehards, I guess you'll be reading this anyways. If you're a newcomer to the world of Robert Crais I reccomend starting with "Hostage" or "The Monkey's Raincoat," which is one of the best first novels any author has ever written. For the average reader I would just wait for the movie. I'm sure John McTiernan could turn this into a decent two hour time waster which would beat wasting a week of your life reading something as generic as this.


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