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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
24 Hours to Live -- or Die
24 Hours is Greg Iles's fifth novel in a little over seven years. Not surprisingly, it represents a sharp departure from everything that has come before. Iles's first two novels, Spandau Phoenix and Black Cross were big, ambitious historical thrillers set against the backdrop of World War II. They were followed, in turn, by Mortal Fear a sophisticated, high-tech serial killer story, and by 1999's The Quiet Game a contemporary Southern Gothic rooted in the recent history of race relations in Mississippi. In deliberate contrast to these earlier novels, each of which operates on a grand, almost epic scale, 24 Hours is a spare, tightly compressed account of kidnapping and revenge that takes place, as the title implies, within a single, dramatic, 24 hour period.
Two very different families dominate the new novel. The first of these is an oddly matched trio of serial kidnappers headed by Joe Hickey, embittered ex-con, sexual sadist, and designer of an elegant, very nearly foolproof kidnapping scheme. Aiding Hickey are Cheryl Tilly, his abused and beautiful wife, and Huey Cotton, a gentle, mentally deficient giant who will do almost anything to please his cousin Joe. Once a year for the last five years, these three have pulled off -- with absolute impunity -- a flawlessly orchestrated series of abductions, each of which targeted the son or daughter of a prominent Mississippi physician. As the novel opens, they are about to stage the sixth -- and final -- iteration of the same basic plan.
The intended victims, this time out, are the Jennings family. Will Jennings is a wealthy anesthesiologist currently approaching the peak of his profession. His wife, Karen, is a discontented housewife whose own medical career was cut short by an unplanned pregnancy. The product of that pregnancy was Abbie Jennings, who is now five years old, and who suffers from a chronic, potentially fatal case of juvenile diabetes. The violent conjunction of these two families will occupy one full day, and will alter the lives of everyone involved.
When Will Jennings leaves his family to attend a medical conference in Biloxi, Hickey and his cohorts abduct Will's daughter, setting in motion a complex plan whose success depends on speed, on the strict segregation of all participants, and on the prompt, unhindered delivery of a relatively modest ransom. The plan, which has worked so spectacularly in the past, begins, almost immediately, to go wrong. To start with, Abbie's medical condition introduces a number of unanticipated complications. Additionally, Will and Karen prove more resourceful -- and, when necessary, more ruthless -- than any of Hickey's earlier victims, two of whom -- James and Margaret McDill -- belatedly decide to reveal the details of their own son's abduction, one year before. Most significantly, Hickey himself reveals a previously undisclosed personal agenda, an agenda that separates this particular kidnapping from the five that went before.
24 Hours is not only Iles's shortest, most sharply focused novel to date, it is also his most cinematic. With an almost effortless facility, Iles moves the narrative along from scene to scene and location to location, cutting cleanly back and forth from the ostentatious luxury of a Biloxi casino to the sharecropper's cabin where Abbie Jennings lies hidden from view, and from the upscale elegance of the Jennings residence to the headquarters of the FBI, where a full scale manhunt gradually takes shape. The extended closing sequence, which involves an airborne pursuit, an emergency landing on a crowded Mississippi highway, and a climactic confrontation between kidnappers and victims, is rendered in colorful, highly visual prose that cries out to be filmed. Someday, it probably will be.
24 Hours may not be Iles's most ambitious novel, but it is nonetheless a first-rate entertainment: involving, expertly constructed, and, at its best, viscerally exciting. As always, Iles exhibits an uncommon combination of intelligence, ingenuity, and sheer narrative energy, reinforcing his position as one of the most consistently interesting popular novelists to emerge in America in recent years. If you haven't made his acquaintance yet, I urge you to do so soon. He's a good young writer who is steadily getting better, and he deserves the success he seems almost certain to achieve.