For all its twists and turns – and not just those that criss-cross the slopes of the Swiss Alps - “Detour,” Richard Meese’s captivating spy thriller/psychological drama, romance/chick lit could very well be re-spelled as “Routed” for what it does to our expectations of genre.
On one hand, it’s a spy story/psychological thriller: Margaret Brady, a partner in a Costa Mesa CPA firm, gets kidnapped, almost gets murdered, gets rescued by a handsome and charismatic though shadowy character who whisks her off to Geneva allegedly to protect her from a plutonium-wielding terrorist who mistakes Margaret for his double-crossing, multi—million dollar stealing wife.
On the other hand, it’s a romance/chick lit: Margaret has had her life derailed by a scumbag boyfriend named Bill, has been permanently scarred by her perfectionist father. She’s got baggage not of the Louis Vuitton type. She’s attractive, successful and a total mess.
Her knight in shining armor Morton also has a sad story. An accountant in a firm across the street from that of Margaret’s, he fantasized about her so much that, quixotically, he decided to give her the adventure he rationalized they both needed. Hence the trajectory of the story: he faked the whole elaborate operation in a way that would make central casting or at least a director-wife proud.
It all unraveled when - bummer! - their swank Swiss hotel declined his American Express card. She escaped, came home, and learned, in a ta-da! moment, his true identity and his epic back story: that’s when the story morphed from vendetta to true love.
The reader is in for a roller coaster ride. The setting is credible: from that sterile South Coast Plaza environment to a field in Irvine to Geneva, to Ohio, and then back to Geneva, Meese throws in enough detail and verisimilitude so that us locals can recognize wine bars and office buildings and enough generic detail to ground the story.
Margaret is the perfect candidate for such an adventure. She wants, or, at least, wanted a life but fearful, wounded, she won’t go out and forge one. One moment she worries about what to wear; the next moment she fights for her life on a ski slope a continent away.
Like Margaret, all Morton wants is true love. Unlike Margaret, though, he’s willing to put his money where his dreams are. James Bond, meet Don Quixote.
Meese’s achievement? He wove a complex – and complete - story around the quietly desperate lives of ho-hum number-crunchers.
But the best parts of the book are the plot that refuses to behave in a predictable way – good! – and characters that refuse to reduce themselves to stereotypes. Both transformations are to die for.
Margaret learns how to trust the human race and Morton lives out one life-long fantasy.
Meese gives us a satisfying read that fulfills our vicarious desire for both international intrigue and happy-ever-after endings. Page-turner, barn-burner, heart-tingler, it’s a great experience. Bravo.
513 pages. Published in 2005 by Hats Off Books. ISBN 1587365359. For more information visit www.hatsoffbooks.com.