Whether it’s on the right or wrong side of the law I prefer my crime story protagonists to have some experience with crime. If they don’t know how to handle themselves in a fight or come up with strategic solutions to problems I’m usually not interested. So I’m not a fan of the crime and noir stories that involve everyday people who become ensnared in dark and disturbing plots. Gregg Hurwitz’s latest thriller “They’re Watching” is one of those types of tales though and I’ve enjoyed the writer’s work on the Marvel Comics series “Vengeance of the Moon Knight”and the ABC television series “V”. Hurwitz has also written nine other crime and thriller novels and I always meant to give those a try. So I decided to pick up “They’re Watching” and see what it was like. I’m glad I did.
“They’re Watching” is a first person narrative told from the point of view of Patrick Davis, a man whose dream job and dream marriage have recently been taken from him. Davis was a screenwriter on the verge of his big break in Hollywood when the actions of a temperamental star got him blacklisted. Now he’s eking out a living by teaching the art of screenwriting at a small college. That same star also orchestrated an incident that sent Patrick’s marriage off the rails and onto the rocks.
When “They’re Watching” begins Patrick’s already shook up world gets tossed around even further by the arrival of some mysterious DVDs. The DVDs are of Patrick and his wife. They’re being watched by shadowy enemies. Those enemy wants Patrick to do some jobs and it quickly becomes clear that they have the power enforce their will on Patrick. During the course of one job Patrick finds himself on the wrong side of the law and suddenly he has to deal with both the cops and his enigmatic assailants. In order to break free from his faceless adversaries, clear his name, and save his wife Patrick will have to call upon the friends he still has and a sense of cunning he’s not sure he possesses.
In the first half of “They’re Watching” Hurwitz really succeeds at creating a complex, shadowy, and scary mystery. At first you don’t know the true agenda of the people watching Patrick and Hurwitz keeps you guessing right along with his protagonist. It made the early portion of the book a highly compelling read. The scenes where Patrick went on missions for his faceless enemies were full of fun tension. I truly felt like almost anything could happen.
In the later half of “They’re Watching” you find out exactly what Patrick’s enemies want him for and it still makes for an entertaining and satisfying read, but I didn’t enjoy it much as the early scenes. I think it was a case of Hurwitz manipulating my imagination so that all that I thought was going on ended up being slightly more interesting than what was actually going on. Again though, that doesn’t mean the second half of the book wasn’t fun. There’s a lot of twists and turns and you start to really admire how resourceful Patrick Davis becomes.
Another reason “They’re Watching” works is because of the characters. At first you don’t really like Patrick, but once you come to understand him, and the first person narrative helps with that, you start to root for him. And eventually it becomes clear that Patrick is guy who wants nothing more than the love of his wife and to make the world a better place. Some other interesting characters include the actor who screwed up Patrick’s fantasy life, an older female but still very capable police detective, and an ex-cop who works as a consultant on movie sets.
So “They’re Watching” was a fun and enjoyable thriller that has made me reconsider my thoughts on the average joe style crime story. Hurwitz shows that with the right blend of plot and characterization these types of tales can be just as fun and compelling as crime stories featuring skilled lawmen and lawbreakers.