- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

BOOKS:

THE LAST THING I REMEMBER
By Andrew Klavan
Thomas Nelson Publishing, $14.99, 346 pages
Reviewed by Roger L. Simon

Andrew Klavan’s “The Last Thing I Remember” is one of the more subversive books I’ve read in a long time. I ought to know - I used to be a subversive (or consider myself to be one). Moreover, it’s subversive in a truly important and new way.

But more of that in a moment - time out for a bias alert. I’m a friend of Mr. Klavan‘s. I work with him at Pajamas TV on a weekly basis. Worse yet, he recently wrote a favorable review of a book of mine. So caveat lector, etc.

(This is the kind of thing that’s not supposed to happen at putatively high-minded institutions like this or even the New York Times Book Review, but trust me, more often than not, it does - and it’s not always six degrees of separation, more like two and a half.)

Still, I promise you, dear reader, I am being completely honest about my opinion of Mr. Klavan’s work, which I am embarrassed to say I really liked. Why embarrassed? Because it is the first in a series of thrillers written for the young adult/high school market (think “Hardy Boys” for our times) and I am pushing five decades beyond its target audience.

Nevertheless, “The Last Thing I Remember” enthralled me. Mr. Klavan got me from the get-go by inverting the politically correct/multi-culti propaganda that infuses child lit these days.

When we first meet his protagonist, Charlie West, and his friends, they are IM-ing each other about how to write sufficiently anti-American papers for their ultraliberal history teacher. One of them urges Charlie to lie for the boomer doofus, in order to get a good grade for college. But our hero - a patriot who loves his parents and respects his karate sensei - can’t get himself to that level of self-interested dishonesty.

This believable sequence has a political point, of course, but it also smacks of the kind of reality that grounds the best thrillers. The author makes you believe in the daily life of its characters, so you can accept the sometimes over-the-top derring-do to come. And there is plenty of derring-do in this book, that, thanks to Mr. Klavan’s skill, you take pleasure in.

After a short dose of this high school life, Charlie is revealed as a young man mysteriously on the run - suffering from a kind of amnesia while missing his new girlfriend and his family. I won’t reveal the details here but, as you might guess, the story explodes far beyond the bounds of high school life onto the national, and even international, stage of the war on terrorism. There are glimpses of Homeland Security and al Qaeda through the eyes of a teenager.

Mr. Klavan utilizes the classic Hitchcockian wrong-man plot excellently. He held me with it even though I can’t say how many times I have read, seen or, in fact, employed this strategy in my own work.

I suspect his high school audience will be wrapped yet more deeply in Mr. Klavan’s story, since they are ones often forced to hide their ideas and feelings in the thickets of a hugely biased educational system.

In this sense, as I have noted, Mr. Klavan has written a highly subversive work for what could become a signal series. He understands that the thriller is a naturally political form. Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene knew this well in another era. Mr. Klavan brings that knowledge forward to very different times necessitating an equally different point of view.

If you’re an adult, I would advise you read this book. It will be a guilty pleasure. But, more important, if you have a teenager in your family or in your circle, get them a copy as soon as possible. For them, it may be a necessity.

Roger L. Simon is a novelist and screenwriter and chief executive officer of Pajamas Media and Pajamas TV. His most recent book is “Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror.”