Boucherccon has come and gone, and I had the usual wonderful time seeing old friends and meeting new people. What is unusual is that one of my better memories is the book I was reading just before and during the first few days. I had a copy of Stefanie Pintoff’s Hostage Taker in August, but one demand or another kept me from it. In truth, the fact that even my advance copy was a hardcover kept me from it; I carry a book wherever I go, and hardcovers are too heavy. I wait to read them until I can sit quietly at home, which just didn’t happen over this summer. I wanted to read it before I saw Stefanie at Bouchercon, so I started it a before I left. A friend who was driving to Raleigh was taking the books I wanted to have signed, and I didn’t want to carry the heavy hardcover on the plane. But I didn’t want to wait to finish. I have always said there is a use for that e-book technology: I put it on my iPad, and was able to go on. Much as I dislike reading books on a screen, this one was too good to let anything interfere. I would have read it on stone tablets if that was all that was available.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has been taken over by someone whose identity and motives are unknown. Worshippers unfortunate enough to have arrived for an early morning mass have been taken hostage. The authorities become aware of the situation when a woman comes outside silently holding a sign: “HELP ME”. Shortly, there is a red dot on her forehead, followed by a bullet.
Eve Rossi, an FBI hostage negotiator who has been on leave following the death of her stepfather, is called in. She is wrestling with her loss, and is reluctant. The unknown hostage taker is also holding the cathedral hostage; he has wired every entrance with explosives, and a beloved landmark is at risk along with innocent lives. Eve’s superiors feel she is the only one who can handle this crisis.
Eve had assembled a “Vidocq” team (named after a 19th century French thief who turned himself in for a pardon and the opportunity to catch other thieves) in the past. They are a group of misfits, computer hackers, drug dealers, explosive experts and thieves who have been saved from the consequences of their crimes by using their skills to undo other criminals. Hastily recalled from their current nefarious pursuits by Eve, they come together as an antagonistic but effective squad to figure out the who, why and how of the crisis in order to retake the cathedral and save the hostages.
Pintoff previously wrote an award winning series of novels set in Manhattan in the early 20th century. In addition to the deft plotting and fine character development, these books were notable for meticulous research. The city of that time is described from the upper echelons to the slums; people, places, and things from that era come alive. Pintoff’s research skills have not waned, and we learn about both the history and the current state of St. Patrick’s as the Vidocq team seeks a way in. (Maps included.)
This novel is so compelling that at one point, as the authorities announce an imminent press conference, I found myself standing up to turn on the television. The pacing is close to perfect; just as the tension becomes close to unbearable in one team member’s task, we are switched to another, where the pressure builds again.
Hostage Taker is the first of a new series. What keeps a reader coming back to a series is fascinating characters whose lives we want to follow beyond their current adventure. Pintoff has created those characters and left us with open questions about their future. Will Eve stay in her stepfather’s home and overcome the memories? What exactly was her stepfather, a CIA agent, involved in? Is there a romantic future between her and Haddox, one of the team members? Will Garcia, another colleague, succumb to PTSD and alcohol? All of the characters have amazing skills and debilitating liabilities. Where will these qualities take them next? I can’t wait for Whistleblower, the next in the series.