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A GREAT THRILLER, IF YOU CAN SWALLOW THE BIZARRE PREMISE:
A Review of Michael Connelly's Chasing the Dime


By SAM WILLIAMSON


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Friday, Dec. 20, 2002

There's a certain kind of reader who will really enjoy Michael Connelly's new book, Chasing the Dime. That reader is probably looking forward to a nice Christmas vacation away from a stressful job, and the chance to let her mind unwind a little bit: to indulge in a quick escape from the real world. That reader also doesn't mind suspending her disbelief, and accepting a premise that is not entirely believable.

That reader, I believe, will find Chasing the Dime an excellent holiday season diversion. But readers who are looking for believability in their thrillers - credible psychological reactions; plausible plots - may be somewhat disappointed.

Once you do suspend disbelief, however, you should find the book highly enjoyable - I certainly did.

The Need To Suspend Disbelief

Chasing the Dime is about Henry Pierce, a wunderkind scientist whose company, Amadeo Technologies, is on the verge of getting funding for a breakthrough in molecular computers. In order to get his company to this point, Pierce has devoted himself to the company ever since his graduation from Stanford approximately ten years earlier.

Indeed, his devotion has been so complete that it caused his girlfriend (then the publicist for Amadeo) to break up with him. As a result of the breakup, Pierce has had to move out of their shared house and into an apartment. As part of his move, he's had to get a new phone number. And that's where the fun begins. Somehow, Pierce has received the old phone number of Lilly, a "high priced escort," and he keeps getting phone calls from prospective "suitors" looking for Lilly.

So far, so good - but here's where the plot starts to strain credulity. Your average busy, driven tech CEO, after getting Lilly's old number, would probably be somewhat annoyed and somewhat amused; would call the phone company to complain; and would get a new number and forget about the call-girl with whom his life intersected briefly. But not Pierce.

Pierce becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Lilly. Why is he so transfixed? Connelly makes a half-hearted attempt to explain the reasons, but it's ultimately unconvincing and unsatisfying. In the end, in order to enjoy this book, you simply have to accept that Pierce, who has every reason not to care a whit about Lilly - no matter how good looking her web photo is - would risk his entire company and future on figuring out what happened to her.

The Virtues and Flaws of Chasing the Dime - and Connelly's Previous Thrillers

Meanwhile, if you haven't read his earlier books, I highly recommend the Detective Harry Bosch series, which are all quite a bit better than Chasing the Dime. (The series is also available in paperback).

Chasing the Dime moves quickly, and contains some amusing observations on the clash between new-school high tech types and old-school law enforcement fogies. Meanwhile, it also takes an interesting slant on using scientific methodology to gain real-life deductions. (This slant may not be interesting to any real scientists, but to a history major like me, it was fascinating).

Pierce is a complex character who serves as a good focal point for the book, and Connelly places him in a number of interesting and tense situations, all of which contribute to the book's serious hold on the reader's attention. One of the problems with this effort, however, is that the reader never really feels any kinship to any of the other characters. That may be an unavoidable byproduct of Connelly's decision to write a first-person story that focuses on the main character's individual obsession. Still, Connelly makes enough of an effort to draw other characters that one wishes that he had gone a little further, to really round out the supporting cast.

But to be honest, if you're looking for a host of complexly drawn characters, you shouldn't be purchasing Chasing the Dime. Instead, you should buy Scott Turow's Reversible Errors or Stephen Carter's The Emperor of Ocean Park. (Reviews of both Turow's book and Carter's book can be found on this site.)

Still, Chasing the Dime remains a worthwhile purchase. I read this book over Thanksgiving, and it was exactly what I needed as I sat on airplanes, in crowded airports, and lay supine on couches following meals where I ate far, far too much. In fact, following those meals, the book did a good job folded on my chest while I enjoyed a much-deserved nap.

My guess is that many people are looking forward to vacations in the near future that will involve many of these same respectable activities. If so, labyrinthine plots and elaborate character construction may not be what you're looking for - and that's not a dig; the ability to construct an enjoyable page-turner, even without these aspects, is extremely rare.

Connelly has done a solid job with Chasing the Dime, so if you think you can suspend your disbelief enough to track Henry Pierce on his search for the elusive Lilly, then by all means, enjoy.


Sam Williamson is an attorney practicing in New York.

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