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Hitting the Marks

  Dark Harbor
David Hosp
Warner Books, 2005
Rating: 3.5

Posted: June 18, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Boston attorney David Hosp clearly did his homework when putting together Dark Harbor, his fiction debut. In fact, at first it appears he's done it a little too well, as in its early going Harbor feels unsettlingly derivative, as if Hosp has scrupulously compiled a checklist of must-have beach-read elements. A serial killer -- that most overused of crime fiction staples -- figures heavily into the plot, and to make matters worse, he's been dubbed "Little Jack" because he preys on prostitutes a la Jack the Ripper. The police detective assigned to the case isn't just smart and capable; she's got "the face and figure of a model" (don't all homicide detectives?). And for a dash of topicality, there's a grippingly plausible terror attack to kick things off, which provides the basis for a key lawsuit that figures prominently, as well.

And then there's our protagonist, Scott Finn, a good-looking young lawyer with a prestigious Boston law firm: Turns out that Finn spent his youth running the streets as part of a criminal gang -- exactly the kind of detail likely to slip past an elite law firm's background check, right? Thankfully, this implausible scenario never quite reaches the heights of absurdity scaled by Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar, a crime-solving a sports agent with a violent past of his own. Still, it's all the more troubling, since it's pretty much the closest Finn gets to character development -- he remains something of a blank slate, as if to ensure the casting of a Tom Cruise or Ben Affleck in the inevitable movie version.

But give Hosp credit: As Dark Harbor rolls along, it shrugs off any misgivings regarding its oh-so-familiar base elements, steadily gaining momentum as a competent and involving thriller. And it's to the author's credit that the aforementioned "Little Jack" isn't the main villain of the piece so much as a plot point to set things off: When Finn's former lover Natalie Caldwell turns up dead, everyone seems eager to pin her murder on the serial killer, despite a couple of nagging discrepancies in modus operandi that leave detective Linda Flaherty less than convinced. Hosp keeps the twists coming with commendable precision, dropping hints of a conspiracy that seems to reach all the way to the governor's mansion and Finn's own firm.

Broken into quick, bite-sized chapters a la James Patterson, Dark Harbor is competently paced. The final quarter feels a bit rushed, as Hosp eschews the tension of mystery for action, and the involvement of one key player, hinted at throughout, is pretty much overlooked, until it's hastily squeezed into a five-and-a-half page epilogue that too quickly and tidily wraps up the remaining plot threads (including a requisite romantic subplot). This only heightens the impression that Dark Harbor was written with one eye on Hollywood. But despite a wary start, it executes its summer-reading duties with a page-turning attention to craft. There have been many, many Hollywood thrillers built from less satisfying foundations.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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