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ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN, the new novel by Simon Wood, is a fast-paced, smoothly written thriller of how one poorly chosen misstep can lead to a horribly tumbling fall, impossible to stop once it has begun. Josh Michaels has the perfect life. A loving wife, a young daughter, a good job, loyal friends, and a decent amount of money. But when a mistake from his past returns to haunt him, he soon loses all of this, and quite nearly his life as well.
I greatly enjoyed reading this novel. The style is crisp, and very readable. The plot moves easily from point A to B, and even throws a few curves along the way. The characters may not be thickly drawn but are fleshed out enough to seem like real people - or at least facsimiles of them.
If there was anything that dissatisfied me about ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN, it may be that a number of the secondary characters did not seem so much like individuals but rather "types" filling a specific role. They do act and speak in believable ways, but there doesn't seem to be that much depth to them. But then, the pace carries us so quickly through the book that we don't really need to know much more about them.
The same is not so true about Wood's protagonist, however.
Josh Michaels is more fleshed out, with many complexities, and much depth. He has all the varied interests and idiosyncrasies of a real person. As that he is the star of the show, we get to see them all. Many come into play within the course of the story. The only depth that he is lacking is emotionally. With so many things he faces (deaths of friends, loss of his wife and job, troubles with the law, etc.), I did not feel how deeply these things were affecting him. They often seemed to bounce off him as he headed on through the story. The pacing does not allow us or Michaels a chance to dwell on the negative events happening in his life before another one is coming at him. Perhaps, like us, he never has the chance to feel the full impact of what is happening.
What I liked about this story is that it is about an average man who gets embroiled in a plot that spreads across the entire nation, involving murder, intrigue, and greed. Josh Michaels could have easily been any one of us. Yes, he has made some mistakes in his life, but who hasn't? Should we be subjected to pay for them over and over again - or as brutally as he? Josh Michaels' life becomes a very real case of Murphy's Law - anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. It starts off bad, and then just gets worse. Like classical tragedies, it is all brought about by his own flaws.
The novel begins with Josh Michaels being run off the road into a river, where, trapped in his car, he almost drowns. The man who ran him off stops, but gives him a thumbs down sign, then leaves. Josh manages to swim to shore, convinced that someone is out to kill him. But the police don't seem to have much sympathy. Matters become even worse when his former mistress returns with blackmail demands. She had been paid off before but now wants more money not to expose their brief affair, and of another indiscretion he had confessed to her, of taking a bribe in order to pay for his daughter's extensive medical treatment. These two mistakes have brought him to the ruin he now faces eight years later. He risks losing his wife, his family, his job, and even his life as someone is trying to kill him.
The plot ties together very nicely in a very plausible and even frightening manner. This indeed is something that could have happened to anyone who had once made a mistake. Josh's problems are not so far removed from those of any one of us: they are only amplified to the greatest degree. The only difficulty I had with the plot was that it seemed to take the characters an awfully long time to put the final pieces together. There were times when I couldn't understand why they were not making the necessary connections, for it seemed quite obvious. Maybe not the "how's, but in the "why's.
None of its minor flaws really detracted much from my enjoyment of the novel, however. It is definitely a compelling and exciting read, and I look forward to picking up more of Simon Wood's books. A second one, WE ALL FALL DOWN is already lined up for release early next year from Barclay Books, and I understand he has a third on its way. If he continues what he started in Accidents, Simon Wood is an author who is sure to make waves, and have a long and healthy career in front of him. I highly recommend picking up a copy.
I give this book 4 BookWyrms.
This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.