THE FIXER, by Joseph Finder
Joseph Finder’s bestselling novels frequently incorporate mysteries that must be unraveled by lead characters we can instantly empathize with. They’re typically smarter-than-average guys who are emotionally wired to play by the rules, but who are tempted to roll the dice and score something far more exciting than what their simple lives might otherwise deliver. Virtually always, they’re good guys caught in desperately bad situations that force them to commandeer their moral compasses to save their souls while simultaneously striving to save their skin.
These were the thoughts that ran through the subterranean part of my mind as I fell headlong into last summer’s Finder novel, THE FIXER. I went into it knowing I was apt to experience a fast-paced story about a single protagonist mortally endangered by conspiracies and secrets. I knew the high-stakes of those conspiracies would make the villains especially violent. I also knew, based on all of the Joseph Finder novels I’ve read, that the protagonist would be a likable but far-from-perfect everyman, and that his success in staying alive would ultimately save other lives, take down powerful people, and lead to personal redemption.
THE FIXER delivers all of this in a fast, thrilling read. Without giving away much of the plot I’ll tell you of the elements that play into the intrigue. There’s an enormous pile of cash that out-of-work journalist Rick Hoffman discovers behind a closet wall. There are violent bad guys who might once have been vigilantes with the Irish Republican Army who have Rick in their crosshairs. And there’s a compellingly plausible description of political corruption in Boston that’s becomes an irresistible subject for an expose that ultimately enables Rick to better understand certain mysteries in his past while laying a path toward a far brighter future.
I loved this book every bit as much as Paranoia, Company Man, Buried Secrets and High Crimes, which forced criminal defense attorney Claire Chapman to square off with military lawyers intent on putting her husband to death for a horrific crime (a book that was also made into a great movie at the end of the 1990s with Ashley Judd and James Caviezel). As someone who’s spent three decades behind a desk and weathered quite a few economic recessions, I appreciated Company Man and Paranoia (which also became a film starring Harrison Ford) for Finder’s ability to thrust characters who are living unremarkable lives into deadly, high-stakes conspiracies. They’re stories that capture the insecurities of white collar workers who occasionally feel as if they can’t trust the authority figures who have so much power over their lives. People who know what it’s like to clench their fists under a conference room table and wonder why certain people are inside their boss’ office with the door closed. While your own job may not turn office politics into life-or-death situations, you can probably recognize elements of your own experiences in these stories. Buried Secrets is a bit different because main character Nick Heller actually is a “private spy” who basically goes looking for trouble, yet once again Finder makes that trouble personal, and terrifying.
Taken together, all of Finder’s stories stand out in a crowded thriller field because they mix escapism with realism. They’re a perfect read after a long day at the office when you want to slip into a “what’s going to happen next?” kind of story with characters who take extraordinarily dangerous measures to stay alive and solve crimes while staying true to moral values that may or may not be in their best interests. Stories that will probably intensify your white collar insecurities en route to satisfying conclusions where the good guys win the day.