Nat Idle, a San Francisco writer with a medical degree, narrowly survives an explosion in an Internet cafe after a stranger hands him a note warning him to exit immediately. The handwriting on the note belongs to his deceased girlfriend, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist whom he has obsessively been mourning.
So begins HOOKED, a pop thriller for the Internet Age, written with the force of an adrenaline rush and the pace of an intimate email dispatch you can't stop reading. Each chapter of this novel will keep readers hooked as Nat Idle searches for the love of his life in the midst of manipulation and conspiracy.
This oddly flat thriller from first-time novelist Richtel opens with a warning in a dead girlfriend's handwriting, followed by an explosion in a San Francisco cafe. Nat Idle, who barely escapes, is perplexed by the note: his girlfriend Annie--from a very wealthy family involved in various opaque concerns--was swept off her sailboat four years ago and never seen again. Nat tracks down survivors of the blast, including waitress Erin Coultran, whose actions make Nat suspicious; when the home of aspiring novelist Simon Anderson, another survivor, catches on fire, Nat's suspicions intensify. Nat's investigations take him to Strawberry Labs, Annie's family company possibly named after Annie's childhood Labrador retriever that may be doing drug-related business. Despite intentionally short chapters la The Da Vinci Code, Richtel (who writes the comic strip Rudy Park under nom de plume Theron Heir) has trouble bringing Nat to life or tension to the plot--in part because of Nat's first-person flashbacks to his relationship with Annie. Richtel's trying to do a brainy update of classic noir, but falls slightly short. (June)
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June 01, 2007
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Excerpt from Hooked by Matt Richtel
I 'm guessing that the moment that your life begins to unravel is often unceremonious--heralded by a whimper. The bang should have told me something.
I remember mostly details.
The extra foam sliding down the side of the mocha. A couple arguing over whether to put the "Mighty OJ" juicer on their bridal registry. The rottweiler tied outside the cafe, standing on hind legs, paws pressed urgently against the window.
When she walked by, I was reading a languid description of a Boston river, somewhat guiltily speeding through the imagery to get back to the book's action. I wouldn't have noticed her at all had she not put a small, folded square of paper on the corner of my table. I registered graceful hands, and a ring on the index finger. Then I focused on the piece of paper. Was I being picked up?
When I looked up again, she was nearly out the screen door, purposeful, and not stopping to look back. I dog-eared a page in my book, picked up the folded note, and followed her.
I scanned the street. The young transplants who call San Francisco's Marina District home meandered with designer sunglasses and designer baby strollers, enjoying a fogless July afternoon. Through the crowd, I could see she was halfway into a red Saab parked in front of the Pita Parlor.
Something kept me from calling out. I figured I'd wave her down, but she was in the car and pulling away before I could get close enough to yell without making a scene. I looked at the textured beige stationery in my palm. I unfolded the corners, and saw words like a bullhorn:
"Get out of the cafe--NOW!"
The cafe exploded.
Smoke. Car alarms. Glass, ashes, a cloud of dust. A sound inside my head like a hangover delivered via freight train. I don't think I ever lost consciousness. The blast took me three feet through the air, dropped me on the pavement, but seemed to leave me intact.
I've seen footage of war zones, where the world seems to be coming undone. This was nothing like that--just a single moment of extraordinary violence, followed by haze. Like a bloody version of the time my father slammed a stainless steel pot on the kitchen floor to get my brother's attention.
The front window of the cafe was blown out, and a side wall was ripped, though not torn down, exposing metal and concrete innards. A couple wandered out from the screen door; he held an arm limply at his side, her bloody legs churned between step and stumble. The owner of the rottweiler checked his pet for wounds.
These days, you imagine the first thought at such a moment would be of terrorism.
My first thought was of Annie.
She was rarely far from my mind, even four years after the accident that took her life at the age of twenty-eight. Mostly, I'd thought of her at moments of transition--when I got up, climbed into bed, or on a long drive between interviews. It said as much about me as us; it was in those moments, the quiet instances when life lacked structure, that I most needed a place to focus.
I wouldn't defend my relationship with Annie as perfect, but it defined love for me, and endured. She was always chewing strong breath mints, causing our kisses to taste spicy, and I got sad when I smelled cinnamon. Sometimes at night, I told an imaginary Annie stories aloud and tried to guess at which point she would have sleepily asked me to wrap it up.
But it was more than longing that made me think of her as a thin layer of dust settled over me. It was the note I'd been handed. I'd know Annie's handwriting anywhere.
"Can you move your legs?"
The words came through my fog from a police officer, kneeling beside me. I waved my hand to say, "I'm fine." I started to stand, and he helped guide me up by the elbow.
"We need to get you out of this area."
As my awareness returned, so did the sounds and colors, and the chaos. Police and firefighters, the sound of radio chatter, helicopters. I was embedded in the evening news.