Saturday, January 3, 2009

Joseph Garber: Vertical Run

I recently re-read Vertical Run by Joseph Garber. It is another of my favorites where someone’s life is suddenly and inexplicably turned upside-down. The protagonist is left trying to survive, while wondering what changed.

In this case, Dave Elliot goes to work as an executive running a few divisions for the conglomerate, Senterex. As he is preparing for his day in his 45th floor Manhattan office, his boss, Bernie Levy comes into his office and tries to kill him. And then his day gets worse. When he steps out of his office, two men he has never met also try to kill him.

As the story evolves, it turns out that someone going by the name John Ransome is leading a paramilitary team whose apparent mission is killing Dave Elliot. They have his building sealed off, and have no intention of his getting out alive.

But Dave Elliot has a violent background of his own. He has very specialized training from his service in Vietnam as a member of a team trained to track and kill the enemy on his own turf. In fact his background reminds me a lot of David Baldacci’s Oliver Stone. To Garber’s credit, I could not make that comparison if I had reviewed Vertical Run the first time I read it in 1995. Oliver Stone did not appear until the Camel Club was published in 2005.

It turns out that Elliot is a hard man to kill. But although Ransome is losing troops, he seems to have call on an unlimited supply of backups. Watching Elliot’s improvisations and quick thinking is probably the best aspect of the book.

In Vertical Run the story flips between Elliot’s maneuvers in his office building and his background learning his skills in Vietnam. Apparently he did not like the man he was becoming in the military, and stepped back just before going over the line. He left hard feelings behind, so wonders if his Vietnam background is at the core of his current situation.

As a re-read, I knew why everyone was after Elliot. But I was able to observe that Garber did not cheat. He told us the pertinent facts within the five pages it took Elliot to go through his morning routine and arrive at his office. But he cleverly presented the information in such an off hand way that we did not attach any more significance to it than Elliot did.

The action gets going within twenty pages, and hardly slacks off for the rest of the book. Talk about had to put down. The climax is suitably intense. But in some ways the post climax wind down does not feel quite up to the cohesiveness of the rest of the book. But that’s a pretty minor complaint.

I love Vertical Run for its intensity, mystery, and plot twists. All the parts work together well. Dave Elliot is a fun good guy. And John Ransome is a cold, calculating bad guy.

No comments: