"The Payoff" by Douglas Corleone is well-built, solid, and smart, just like its hero, Simon Fisk. Fisk is a retired U.S. Marshal who is now a private investigator. He handles only missing persons cases involving young people who have disappeared.
The reason for that specialty is the kidnapping of his six-year-old daughter about ten years before the action of this novel. The daughter has never been found, and her disappearance was rendered even more tragic by his wife's suicide shortly after the loss of their daughter.
So Fisk is bereft, and ridden by an overwhelming sense of guilt and despair. The one atonement he can make, he feels, is to find other missing children and return them to their parents. Now, a man calls who had done a huge favor for Fisk involving the story of the ex-marshal's missing daughter. That man, Edgar Trenton, asks for a return favor -- he wants Fisk to investigate the kidnapping of HIS fifteen-year-old daughter.
So Fisk must oblige. Trenton is a very wealthy movie producer, and the kidnappers ask for an 8.5 million dollar ransom for her return. Trenton insists on paying the ransom, but after he wires the money, his daughter remains in the kidnapper's hands.
Fisk must travel half the world to track down the daughter, Olivia, and the perpetrators. It's complicated. It's also violent, suspenseful, thoughtful, and unabashedly sentimental. Along the way, Corleone and his hero describe military and political maneuverings and malfeasances; and the U.S. government and its bureaucracies and military forces, and other governments and THEIR bureaucracies and militaries all come out smelling putrid and wholly unholy. And that includes the Roman Catholic church. Quite controversial, actually.
There are a few flaws here: Simon (first person narrator) warns the reader a few too many times that he must find Olivia soon, or she will certainly be killed if she's not dead already. And the suspense is largely mitigated by the narration itself -- when Fisk gets in deep trouble and another character says to him something like "You'll never get out of this alive," we know, of course, that he WILL get out alive because he's the one telling the story -- common problem with first person narration in a suspense novel.
But fine writing qualities abound here anyway: solid dialogue, well-conceived and well-executed plot with clever twists and turns, and a very likable hero. Well done.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Minotaur Books, for review purposes.
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