- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Cracking “Don’t Look Twice,” Andrew Gross‘ latest novel, is like opening a super-sized bag of potato chips. You know you’re about to consume empty calories. You know they’re bad for you. But you do it anyway.

Mr. Gross broke into authordom as the “co-writer” of five novels by James Patterson, the former ad guru turned book factory. Like Mr. Patterson, he came from the business world. Armed with a BA from Middlebury and an MBA from Columbia, he worked at his family’s women’s wear firm, then went to HEAD sportswear and Le Coq Sportif before he was teamed with Mr. Patterson.

Mr. Gross obviously has been influenced by Mr. Patterson’s ad-copy style, which incorporates the device of writing two- and three-page chapters - the figurative potato chips in that fictional bag, if you will.

Like his mentor, Mr. Gross’ books are labeled thrillers. But if “Don’t Look Twice” is evidence, his writing is closer to romance mystery than thriller. The book follows the classic soft-edge template. There’s never any question that Ty Hauck, the Greenwich Connecticut detective and Mr. Gross’ franchise character, is going to come away a winner on the last page, even though he may suffer emotionally before he does.

The villains, stock figures all, are properly evil. There are crooked FBI agents, Hispanic gang members toting TEC-9s, state legislators on the take and an international scam that has netted the bad guys profits in the nine and 10 figures.

There is also violence. But it is the violence of 1930s gangster movies. People die, although not so graphically that the ladies in the audience - some of Mr. Gross’ prime targets - will be upset. There’s emphasis on feelings, a fair amount of internalizing and a lot more touchie-feelie prose than the hard-edge kind.

”The barrel erupted, spitting orange flashes of death and terror all around. The station’s storefront shattered. … Hauck pulled his daughter to the floor, the earsplitting zip, zip, zip of twenty rounds per second exploding glass, toppling counters of candy and shredding magazines all over them.”

Elmore Leonard, he ain’t.

Moreover, there are some Very Basic Facts that thriller writers know but Mr. Gross appears not to. Like the VBF that Sig-Sauer pistols (Lt. Hauck carries one) don’t have safeties. Or the bolt that, Mr. Gross tells us Lt. Hauck “drew back” on his pistol. Pistols don’t have bolts. Rifles and submachine guns have bolts. I think perhaps Mr. Gross was referring to the slide.

Now, the fact Mr. Gross doesn’t know about safeties, or bolts, or that there is no such weapon as a “Glock Eight” would be a real problem if Mr. Gross were writing a police procedural or a thriller. Thriller aficionados know it’s not “Dynacor” that sends police trainers overseas, but DynCorp International. Police procedural mavens know that the New York City Police Department doesn’t have an “Office of Information,” but a Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, and that the 122nd Precinct is in Staten Island, not in Queens.

But Mr. Gross is targeting a wholly different audience; an urban/suburban/country club/beach club/gated community audience that doesn’t care as much about firearms as it does about clothes, and feelings, and decor, and emotions. And in these, Mr. Gross excels.

Lt. Hauck’s brother’s law office “looked like it might have once been the living room of the house. Large, airy, paneled. French doors led out to as rear yard. His brother had his back toward him in a swivel chair, wearing a pink shirt and with one of those headsets on. Cole Haans elevated onto the credenza, facing out the window.” An evocative word picture and as expansive as Mr. Gross’ description of Greenwich police headquarters is spare and dry.

Lt. Hauck’s love interest, a restauratrice named Annie Fletcher “had a cute, pixie-like figure and a smile like a Caribbean sunset.” Through Lt. Hauck’s eyes, Annie “was funny and vulnerable, he was thinking, and at the same time independent and strong. She had pulled her life together when it had fallen apart. And he liked that. … The kiss lingered. He was trying to decide if there were any sparks. There were.”

Annie’s Backstreet, her restaurant was “her place. In her style. Crossbeams on the high ceiling. Linen-colored, stuccoed walls. An open kitchen with copper pots hanging from the racks. ‘Comfort food with a point of view.’ “ And on the menu? “They had stuffed twenty veal chops, hand-rolled two hundred agnolotti stuffed with chicken and feta, made twenty off-the-charts chocolate crespelles.” It’s a metrosexual’s dream-find.

And when Annie shows up at Lt. Hauck’s for dinner, she brings a bottle of Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with her. This is boutique wine. It really is from Napa, and a case runs about $540. Obviously, Mr. Gross is a lot more comfortable and knowledgeable writing about good food, fine wine and Cole Haans than he is about Sigs and Glocks and grungy police offices.

But make no mistake: Mr. Gross, unlike many best-selling writers these days, can create character and mood. He understands nuance and pacing. And the book is entertaining, which is, after all, its primary goal. It is fun to read. And when you’re finished, unlike the empty potato chip bag that goes in the trash, you can pass Mr. Gross’ book on to another junk food addict.

John Weisman’s recent novels “SOAR,” “Jack in the Box” and “Direct Action” are all available as Avon paperbacks. He can be reached at jweisman@wildblue.net

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