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A Simple Plan

A Simple Plan

4.2 53
by Scott Smith

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“Spectacular. . . . Ten shades blacker and several corpses grimmer than the novels of John Grisham. . . . Do yourself a favor. Read this book.” —Entertainment Weekly

Two brothers and their friend stumble upon the wreckage of a plane–the pilot is dead and his duffle bag contains four million dollars in cash. In order to hide, keep,


“Spectacular. . . . Ten shades blacker and several corpses grimmer than the novels of John Grisham. . . . Do yourself a favor. Read this book.” —Entertainment Weekly

Two brothers and their friend stumble upon the wreckage of a plane–the pilot is dead and his duffle bag contains four million dollars in cash. In order to hide, keep, and share the fortune, these ordinary men all agree to a simple plan.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Read this book. It is better than any suspense novel since The Silence of the Lambs.” —Stephen King
“Spectacular. . . . Ten shades blacker and several corpses grimmer than the novels of John Grisham. . . . Do yourself a favor. Read this book.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Beautifully controlled and disturbing. . . . Works a devastating variation on the idea of the banality of evil.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Like watching a train wreck. There is nothing to be done, but it is impossible to turn away.” —Chicago Tribune
“A marvel. . . . The story-twists keep you turning the pages and guessing what’s coming next. With cool precision, Smith outlines the ever-widening spiral of distrust and violence.” — The Boston Globe
“A work of deceptive simplicity and singular power. . . . To describe the fascinating parade of thoughts and deeds that lead inexorably to the book’s calamitous conclusion would give away too much of the plot.” — The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Once one accepts the bizarre premise of Smith's astonishingly adept, ingeniously plotted debut thriller, the book fulfills every expectation of a novel of suspense, leading the reader on a wild exploration of the banality of evil. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that a tyro writer could have produced so controlled and assured a narrative. When Hank Mitchell, his obese, feckless brother Jacob and Jacob's smarmy friend Lou accidentally find a wrecked small plane and its dead pilot in the woods near their small Ohio town, they decide not to tell the authorities about the $4.4 million stuffed into a duffel bag. Instead, they agree to hide the money and later divide it among themselves. The "simple plan'' sets in motion a spiral of blackmail, betrayal and multiple murder which Smith manipulates with consummate skill, increasing the tension exponentially with plot twists that are inevitable and unpredictable at the same time. In choosing to make his protagonist an ordinary middle-class man -- Hank is an accountant in a feed and grain store -- Smith demonstrates the eerie ease with which the mundane can descend to the unthinkable. Hank commits the first murder to protect his brother and their secret; he eerily rationalizes the ensuing coldblooded deeds while remaining outwardly normal, hardly an obvious psychopath. Smith's imagination never palls; the writing peaks in a gory liquor store scene that's worthy of comparison to Stephen King at his best.
Library Journal
In the opening pages of this riveting first novel, Hank Mitchell is heading down a snowy road with his brother Jacob and a friend, intent on visiting his parents' grave. After chasing Jacob's huge dog through the woods, the three men stumble upon a tiny plane whose pilot is dead. The plane holds another surprise -- a bag containing $4 million. Upright Hank resists taking the money but finally thinks up a "simple plan'' that will protect them if anyone suspects them of stealing. Once Hank veers from the straight and narrow, however, nothing is simple. Unnerved by his somewhat slow-witted brother's panic, distrustful of thief-in-arms Lou, Hank commits a murder -- and is launched upon a bloody downward spiral that carries the reader quickly to the end of the book. Buttoned-downed Hank ultimately proves to be made of poorer stuff than his scruffier compatriots, and his carefully reasoned descent into crime is shocking. Occasionally, it seems a bit too pat--the reader is left wondering whether anyone could commit so many crimes without moral upset--but ultimately this should prove popular reading.
School Library Journal
On an afternoon jaunt, Hank, his brother, and a friend accidentally discover a wrecked plane. Inside they find the dead pilot and a sack containing four million dollars. The men know that they should notify the authorities, but instead they devise a foolproof scheme for keeping the money. They will hide it for one year, tell no one, live normally, and then divide the loot into three equal portions. Nothing can go wrong with such a simple plan-or can it? Smith draws his characters deftly, fully exploring the changes that occur in each of the men after their discovery. The plot is clever, gripping, and full of twists. As Hank narrates the story, the tension builds slowly, but is sustained until the surprise ending. Young Adults will quickly become caught up in this polished suspense novel.
-- Judy Sokoll, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Entertainment Weekly
Spectacular...10 shades blacker and grimmer than the novels of John Grisham...Do yourself a favor. Read this book. (A+ rating)
People Magazine
Expertly crafted...will make you feel like an unindicted co-conspirator. To say more about the plot would ruin the pleasure of reading the book for yourself.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Simple Plan

By Scott Smith

Random House

Scott Smith

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0307279952

Chapter One


My parents died in an automobile accident the year after I was married. They tried to enter I-75 through an exit ramp one Saturday night and crashed head-on into a semi hauling cattle. My father was killed instantly in the wreck, decapitated by the hood of his car, but my mother, miraculously, survived. She lived for a day and a half more, hooked up to machines in the Delphia Municipal Hospital, her neck and back broken, her heart leaking blood into her chest.

The semi driver came through it all with only a few minor bruises. His truck had caught fire, though, barbecuing the cattle, and after my mother died he sued my parents' estate for damages. He won the suit but got no material satisfaction from it: my father had mortgaged his farm to the hilt and was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy when he died.

My wife Sarah's pet theory was that he'd committed suicide, driven to it by the embarrassing proliferation of his debts. I argued with her at the time, though not very wholeheartedly. In hindsight, you see, it seems that he may've made certain preparations. A week before the accident, he came by my house in his pickup, its truck bed packed with furniture. Sarah and I had no use for any of it, but he was insistent, threatening to head straight for the dump if we didn't accept the entire load, so I helped him carry it, piece by piece, down to the basement. After he left us, he drove over to mybrother Jacob's apartment and gave him the pickup.

There was also his will, the first clause of which was an injunction upon Jacob and me that we swear orally, in each other's presence, to visit his grave every year, without fail, on his birthday. It continued from there, a bizarrely elaborate document, pages and pages, going through the old farmhouse room by room, bequeathing each object to us by name, no matter how trivial or inconsequential--a shaving kit, a broom, and an old Bible for Jacob; a broken blender, a pair of work boots, and a black stone paperweight in the shape of a crow for me. It was pointless, of course, wasted effort. We had to sell everything of any value to pay the debts he'd left behind, and the things of no value we had no use for. We had to sell the farm, too, our boyhood home. A neighbor bought it, grafting it to his own land, absorbing it like a giant amoeba. He knocked down the house, filled in the basement, and planted a soybean field on the lot.

My brother and I had never been close, not even as children, and the gap between us only grew wider as we got older. By the time of the accident, we had very little except our parents left in common, and their sudden deaths eased whatever weight this might've normally held.

Jacob, older than I by three years, had dropped out of high school and lived alone in a small apartment above the hardware store in Ashenville, the town in which we were raised, a tiny crossroads marked with a flashing yellow light, as rural as rural gets in northern Ohio. He worked on a construction crew in the summer and survived off unemployment benefits through the winter.

I'd gone to college, the first in my family to do so, graduating from the University of Toledo with a bachelor's degree in business administration. I'd married Sarah, a classmate of mine, and moved to Delphia, thirty miles east of Ashenville, just outside of Toledo. There we bought a three-bedroom, unabashedly suburban house--dark green aluminum siding and black shutters, a two-car garage, cable TV, a microwave, the Toledo Blade delivered with a soft thump to our doorstep every evening at dusk. I commuted back to Ashenville each weekday, to the feedstore there, where I worked as assistant manager and head accountant.

There was no animosity between Jacob and me, no bad blood, we simply weren't comfortable around each other, had difficulty finding things to say, and made little attempt to hide it. More than once, coming out onto the street after work, I saw him dodge into a doorway to avoid meeting me, and each time I felt more relief than pain.

The one tie we did have, after our parents' accident, was the keeping of our promise to our father. Year after year on his birthday we'd repair to the cemetery and stand in stiff, awkward silence beside the grave site, each waiting for the other to suggest that a proper amount of time had passed, so that we could part and slip back into our separate lives. It was a depressing way to spend an afternoon, and we probably would've given it up after the very first time had we both not felt that we'd be punished somehow if we did, cursed from beyond the grave for our failure to stand by our word.

Our father's birthday was December 31, the last day of the year, and the visit gradually took on a ritualized aspect, like any other event during the holiday season, a final hurdle to cross before reaching the new year. It became, essentially, our chief time to interact. We'd catch up on each other's lives, talk about our parents or our childhood, make vague promises to see each other more often, and leave the cemetery with the clean feeling of having rather painlessly fulfilled an unpleasant duty.

This went on for seven years.

On the eighth year, December 31, 1987, Jacob picked me up at my house. He came around three-thirty, a half hour late, with his dog and his friend Lou in his truck. They'd been ice fishing together, their chief activity in the winter, and we had to drop Lou off on the other side of Ashenville before proceeding to the cemetery.

I never liked Lou, and I don't think he ever liked me. He used to call me Mr. Accountant, saying it in a way which seemed to imply that I ought to be embarrassed by my occupation, ashamed of its conventionality and stability. I was peculiarly intimidated by him, though I could never discern exactly why. It certainly wasn't his physical presence. He was a short, balding man, forty-five years old, just beginning to put on weight in the gut. His blond hair was thin, wispy, so that you could see his scalp beneath it, pink and chapped looking. He had crooked teeth, and they gave him a slightly comical quality, a mock toughness, making him look like some two-dimensional disreputable character out of a boy's adventure book--an old boxer, a street thug, an ex-con.

As I came down the walk, he climbed out of the pickup to greet me, so that I'd have to sit in the middle of the seat.

"Howdy, Hank," he said, grinning. Jacob smiled at me from behind the wheel. His dog, a big, overgrown mutt, mostly German shepherd, but with some Labrador thrown in on top, was in the back. It was a male dog, but Jacob had named him Mary Beth, after a girl he'd dated in high school, his first and only girlfriend. He referred to him as a "she," too, as if the dog's name had blinded him to his gender.

I climbed in, Lou pulled himself up behind me, and we backed our way down my driveway to the street.

My house was in a small subdivision called Fort Ottowa, after a frontier outpost whose inhabitants had frozen to death in a blizzard sometime before the start of the Revolution. It was farmland, unrelentingly flat but made over to look like it wasn't. The roads curved around imaginary obstacles, and people constructed little hills in their front yards, like burial mounds, covering them with shrubbery. The houses up and down the street were tiny, each one built right up against the next--starter houses, the realtor had called them--full of newly married couples on their way up in the world, or retirees on their way down, the former planning careers and babies and moves to nicer neighborhoods, the latter wait- ing for their savings to disappear, their health to suddenly worsen, their children to send them away to old-age homes. It was a way station, a rung near the bottom of the ladder.

Sarah and I, of course, belonged to the first group. We had a nest egg, an account gathering interest in the Ashenville Savings Bank. Someday soon we were going to move away, take a step up in the world, the first of many. That was the plan, at least.

Once beyond my neighborhood, we headed west, away from Delphia, and as we did the curving streets, the clustered groupings of two-story houses with circular driveways and swing sets and picnic tables rapidly dissolved away behind us. The roads straightened themselves, becoming narrower in the process. Snow blew across them in places, moving snakelike, in long, thin, dusty lines, piling up along their edges. Houses strayed from one another, separated by whole fields now rather than simple squares of grass. Trees disappeared, the horizon widened, and the view took on a windswept look, a white-gray barrenness. We passed fewer and fewer cars.

It was an uncomfortable ride. Jacob's truck was eleven years old, and there was nothing about it that did not show its age. At one time it had been painted a bright tomato red, my brother's favorite color, but it was faded now to a scab- like burgundy, its sides pockmarked with rust. Its shocks were shot, its heater erratic. The rear window was missing, replaced by a sheet of plastic. The radio was broken, the windshield wipers torn off, and there was a hole the size of a baseball in the floor. A steady stream of cold air blew in through this, shooting straight up my right pant leg.

Jacob and Lou talked about the weather as we drove, how cold it had been lately, when it would snow next, whether or not it had rained on the previous New Year's Eve. I kept silent, listening. Whereas I normally felt merely awkward alone with Jacob, when I was with him and Lou together I felt both awkward and excluded. They had an aggressively private way of interacting; their language was coded, intimate, their humor schoolboyish and obscure. Lou would say "pineapple," with an extra stress on the "pine," or Jacob would moo like a cow, and they'd both immediately tumble into laughter. It was bewildering--I could never escape the feeling that they were constantly making fun of me.

We passed a frozen pond, with skaters on it, children in bright jackets shooting back and forth. Dark, weathered barns dotted the horizon. It never ceased to surprise me: we were ten minutes away from my house and already surrounded by farms.

We drove south of Ashenville, skirting the town, keeping it just out of sight beyond the horizon, taking State High- way 17, ruler straight, until we hit Burnt Road. We turned right there, heading north, then left onto Anders Park Road. We crossed a long, low cement bridge over Anders Creek, plowed snow piled thickly over its railings, making it look fake, like something from a Christmas story, a cookie-dough bridge.

Beyond the creek was Anders Nature Preserve, a thickly wooded square of land that hovered at the right-hand edge of the road for the next two miles. It was a park, run by the county. There was a small pond at its very center, stocked with fish and surrounded by a mown field. People came out from Toledo during the summer to picnic there and play games, to throw Frisbees and fly kites.

The place had originally been the private estate of Bernard C. Anders, an early automobile magnate from Detroit. He'd bought the land in the 1920s and built a large summer house on it, the stone foundations of which were still visible beside the pond. When he died, during the Depression, the estate passed to his wife. She moved into the house year-round and lived there for the next four decades, finally leaving it only to be buried. She and Bernard had produced no children, so she chose to bequeath the land to the county, on the condition that they make it into a nature preserve and name it after her husband. It was an unusual place for a park, out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on four sides by working farms, but the county, with an eye on state tax credits for parkland, accepted. The house was razed, picnic tables carted in, hiking trails cut, and Anders Nature Preserve was created.

We'd gone about a mile past the bridge, halfway down the southern edge of the park, when a fox sprinted in front of us.

It all happened very quickly. I saw a flash of movement off to the left, coming out of the snow-covered field, had just enough time to focus in on it, see that it was a fox, a large, reddish one, sleek and healthy, a dead chicken hanging from its jaws, and it was in front of us, shooting across the road, its body taut, hugging the ground, as if it thought it might sneak by unseen. Jacob slammed on the brakes, too hard, and the truck went into a skid, its rear end coming out to the left, its front bumper sliding right, digging with a loud, raking sound into the snow at the edge of the road. There was the crystalline popping sound of a headlight shattering; then the truck slammed to a stop. We were thrown forward, and the dog came flying in through the plastic rear window, tearing it, his legs scrambling in panic. He was there in the cab for just a moment--I felt his fur, cold against the back of my neck--then he was gone, back out the hole he had made, over the side of the truck, and into the woods after the fox.

Jacob was the first to speak. "Fuck," he said softly. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

Lou giggled a little at that and pushed open his door. We climbed out onto the road. The imploded headlight was the only damage, and we stared at it for a bit, forming a semicircle around the front of the truck.

Jacob tried calling the dog. "Mary Beth!" he yelled. He whistled shrilly.

No one seeing us standing there would've ever recognized us as brothers. Jacob took after our father, while I took after our mother, and the difference was dramatic. I'm brown haired, brown eyed, of medium height and build. Jacob was several inches taller than me, blue eyed, with sandy blond hair. He was also a fat, fat man, immensely, even grotesquely overweight, like a caricature of obesity. He had big hands, big feet, big teeth, thick glasses, and pale, doughy skin.

We could hear the dog barking. He was getting farther and farther away.

"Mary Beth!" Jacob yelled.

The trees were fairly thick here, standing close together--maples, oaks, buckeyes, sycamores--but there was relatively little undergrowth. I could see the fox's tracks winding their way in and around the trunks, disappearing into the distance. Mary Beth's paw prints ran parallel to them, a little darker in the snow, wider and rounder, like a trail of hockey pucks beneath the trees. The ground was perfectly flat.

We listened to the dog's barking grow fainter and fainter.

On the other side of the road was a field, smooth with snow. I could see tracks there, too, coming toward us from the far horizon, perfectly straight, as if the fox had been walking along one of the field's furrows, masked from view by the snow.


Excerpted from A Simple Plan
by Scott Smith Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Stephen King
Read this book. It is better than any suspense novel since Silence of the Lambs. Simply the best suspense novel of the year!

Meet the Author

Scott Smith was educated at Dartmouth College and Columbia University. He lives in New York City.

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A Simple Plan 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book. The characters were great but I have to admit I hoped for a more creative ending - there were a lot of ways you could go with a story like this. The author seemed to take the easy way out. But, the journey the author takes you upon leading up to the end of the book was worth it. The book explores the flaws of three characters and at times makes the reader wonder what they might do. I admit that I put in long reading sessions to find out the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TEST NOOKUSER More than 1 year ago
keeps you interested the whole time! loved it.
Trumpetkris More than 1 year ago
After seeing the movie by the same name, this book had alot more twists and turns in the plot. The ending was better in the book than in the movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The characters actions were totally unbelievable. The author tried to make it seem like an average, small-town accountant could be capable of the monstrous crimes he committed and I wasn't sold at all. Completely disappointing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The moral and ethical questions this book presents are on the money, so to speak. However, the main character is introduced as a mild mannered accountant who begins his killing because he 'is forced' to. Minds aren't wired like that, it's either in there lurking about or not. This man wouldn't help his father find a loop hole in his income tax. And his sweet, loving, pregnant wife turns into his accomplice in order to hang onto this money. If I had to describe this novel as a color, it would be grey. The weather, mood, characters, possessions and mind set of people. Totally unbelievable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this novel, but failed to find it anything but midstream fiction. I would pass on it if I were you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very poor read. None of the characters motivations, and actions were believable. The topper was the final scene in the liquor store. Gimme a break....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story describes everyone who has not committed his life to Jesus Christ and had his sinful heart replaced with a clean, righteous one. Check your heart out with God and see.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was written simply so it read easily. The characters and actions were so surface and unbelievable that all I could think was the author did little research into any kind of police or detective investigation. It was not written with any in depth science or detail. A very shallow and unbelievable experience. I would not recommend it except if you were really bored on vacation.
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janebrn More than 1 year ago
the movie was good but, like most books made into movies, the book was much better and unpredictable. Read his book The Ruins, also great.
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