‘Derailed’ by James Siegel

Derailed

Fiction – paperback; Time Warner Paperbacks; 416 pages; 2004.

James Siegel’s Derailed takes the best bits of The Firm and throws in a smattering of Fatal Attraction to deliver a lightning-paced read with enough twists, turns and downright unexpected seismic shifts to keep you turning the pages late into the night (or, in my case, morning).

Charles is a well-paid advertising executive who’s living a treadmill-like existence until he meets a beautiful stranger on a train. Besotted by the green-eyed Lucinda, he embarks on an illicit affair, momentarily forgetting his wife of 18 years and their sick teenage daughter. But his moment of pleasure turns quite unexpectedly into a violent nightmare in which rape, blackmail and murder all play a part.

I believe Derailed has recently been turned into a film, but this book does not read like a padded-out screenplay, Siegel is an accomplished story-teller. His writing is taut and he knows how to deliver enough cliff hangers and shocks to keep even the most jaded reader turning the pages. The dialogue is believable and his characterisation is spot on too.

Despite the unlikely situation that the narrator finds himself caught up in, not once did I find myself suspending belief, not once did I think how ludicrous. And perhaps that’s what makes this thriller such a rollicking good one: you know it could happen to you because it’s a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or is it?

My only quibble with this book is its slide into almost-farce in the latter third and its too-neat ending. Still, it’s an entertaining read and you’d be hard pressed to find a better thriller that pushes all the right buttons in all the right places. If you like that kind of thing.

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