Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Jackpot

David Kazzie has written a thoroughly entertaining thriller that shares many of the good qualities of Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen while introducing a wholly original voice. The story takes off from the first page and hardly lets you put it down.

As I posted recently in my writing blog, Kazzie succeeds at many levels. Part of what keeps you reading is the violence, the turns it takes and the suddenness of unexpected death. Part of it is the quirkiness of the characters; Kazzie takes the time to explore each character and endow them with surprising qualities. The concept -- what happens to the winner of a super-jackpot lottery -- is a great one, with lots of natural suspense. The writing, if not exactly scintillating, is much better than just competent.

But one of the main attributes is that from the first page you care about the characters. There is Julius, who is watching the lottery drawing with good-for-nothing cousin and realizes he actually has the winning number. There is Samantha Khouri, the ambitious associate who has just been passed over for partner at her law firm when Julius turns to her for legal advice about his ticket. You're on their side. But even the heavies, like Samantha's stressed-out boss at the firm, or the eccentric bounty hunter sent to find the ticket, draw more sympathy than antipathy from the reader.

The setting in Richmond, Va., is well-drawn without being intrusive. It is a place, a real place, but it is subordinate to the action. The riffs on the legal profession -- Kazzie has made something of a name for himself with his YouTube diatribe on the profession ("So you want to go to law school") -- are entertaining and just reined in enough.

As Samantha wrestles with her conscience to do the right thing by her client with this incredibly valuable lottery ticket, the story rockets to its conclusion with a twist that is a surprise even though Kazzie laid down a couple of clues on the way.

Kazzie is harsh in his description of ghetto life, but he is also harsh and unflinching in his portrayal of the hollowness of the 1 percent. There are attitudes and behavior that remind you this was the capital of the Confederacy, but the author does not club you over the head with it. It all comes across as being honest, and not offensive. It is a bit of a stretch to accept Samantha's naivete regarding her chances at the law firm given the particular history of her family, and this may be the weakest point of the plot. But there is so much else to like, the reader is more than willing to suspend disbelief on this point.

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