One of the first things I noticed reading Gregg Hurwitz is his eye for detail. Whether heâ€™s describing a weapon or a Quonset hut, Hurwitz gets after it; he manages to do this without drawing too much attention to the way he spreads this precise approach throughout his novel. THE PROGRAM is the first novel Iâ€™ve read by Gregg; it wonâ€™t be the last.
THE PROGRAM features Tim Rackley, a Deputy US Marshal based in Los Angeles; this is a series character, who, with his wife Dray, is recovering from the death of their child. A Hollywood producer whose daughter has been lured into a cult hires Tim to locate her and, if possible, bring her home. The cult is recruiting young people from places like the Pepperdine campus in Malibu; at this point my New York cynicism reared its ugly head. A cult in Southern California? Whatâ€™s at stake? Are we fast-forwarding to some Patti Hearst moment where everyone on Rodeo Drive will grab an Uzi and rebel? The moment passes, however, due to the authorâ€™s skill as a storyteller; he draws us into Timâ€™s world; his anguish gives the story a dark drive.
Again we tread some familiar ground with Tim exiled from his job as a result of actions described in a previous book, KILL CLAUSE. His outcast status is given a temporary reprieve when Tim is reinstated for the duration of the investigation. The book takes off during an undercover visit to the cultâ€™s recruiting colloquium. This weekend event is described in vivid terms; we see Tim struggle to maintain control of his emotions and his mind. The techniques employed by the cultâ€™s leader are classics of psychological sleight of hand; Tim encounters Leah, the young woman heâ€™s been hired to locate. He canâ€™t simply snatch her, thereâ€™s no legal basis for that. Leahâ€™s mental state is fragile; to kidnap her might leave her damaged permanently. She has to want to come home and therein lies the storyâ€™s real battleground.
THE PROGRAM is well-paced and very well-written. It moves to climax through a satisfying series of confrontations with TD, the cultâ€™s charismatic leader. The names of some minor characters were a source of confusion, but not enough of a distraction to break the flow. This intelligent thriller will leave you on the edge of your seat right up to the last page.