It's an intriguing question, and one that so beautifully drives Switch by Grant McKenzie, a Scotish-born writer currently living in British Columbia.
Sam White is a struggling actor just trying to move beyond small roles like embarassing television commercials while he works as a security guard at a shopping mall. One day he returns home from work to find his house blown up and two body bags being removed. Entirely devastated in assuming he has lost his wife and daughter, he receives an anonymous call from a kidnapper saying they are indeed alive and will be kept alive so long as Sam completes a series of challenging and dangerous tasks.
Soon after, Sam meets Zack Packer, a businessman who is also a victim of the kidnapper with a family member in jeapardy. The two, bonded by the common goal of saving those they love the most are wonderfully brought together in circumstances where they're not entirely sure they can trust one another.
And as they race through tasks and demands that become more violent and challenge their morals, they begin to slowly uncover a complex plot that uncovers links to their intertwined past.
McKenzie has written a novel that races from beginning to end in a phenomenally quick manner. The writing is tight and doled out in extremely short chapter chunks. This double-impact delivery of the story moves things along at a break-neck speed and creates a thriller that is hard to put down.
Switch is published in Canada by Penguin. I have to admit that the cover itself is perhaps the worst thing about this novel which I suspect won't help its chances on bookstore shelves. (Looking at the cover for the UK release, which isn't that much better but contains a nicer sort of darkness to it and a gritty "alone in a big city at night" sort of feel, I'm curious about what led to that particular cover design which seems to be drawn in the spirit of a security camera catching White in action) But I was drawn to the ARC by the premise of the story and compelled to keep reading due to McKenzie's tight prose. As a bookseller, I will certainly be putting this book into the hands of thriller-lovers, telling them to ignore the cover and just start reading the first few line of the novel for a great hook into a story that starts with a hard hit and never stops hitting hard.
"Rick Ironwood staggered back from the blow, his trick knee giving out with a pop as his feet twisted sideways in a puddle of grimy engine oil."
With a "regular guy caught in a terrible nightmare" scenario, reminiscent of some of the recent novels of Linwood Barclay, McKenzie has crafted a brilliantly paced thriller certain to be enjoyed and quickly consumed by thriller lovers everywhere.
Author: Grant McKenzie
Canadian Publisher: Penguin Books Canada
Canadian Release: August 3, 2010
Canadian ISBN: 978-0-14-3173359
Canadian Price: $25.00 (Trade Paperback)