Vertical Run, Joseph R. Garber

Bantam, 1995, 305 pages, C$29.95 hc, ISBN 0-553-10033-5

Some books seem naturally destined to become movies. Then again, some books are directly ripped off from some movies.

Both of these statements are true in the case of Vertical Run, a thriller taking place in a high-rise building, where a lone man is pursued by a team of special operative who will stop at nothing to kill him. DIE HARD, anyone? No matter, because Vertical Run takes us places John McClane hadn’t seen.

It begins early in the morning, just as ultra-average senior executive Dave Elliot steps into his office to begins his workday. It’s not a Monday, but his day starts sucking right away anyway as his boss enters the room and points a gun at him. One fancy move later, the boss is knocked out cold (wish-fulfillment is an essential part of all good thrillers) and Dave has more questions than ever. Let’s hope he’s had his morning coffee, because soon afterward he’ll have to face a whole team of crack operatives all intent on his untimely death.

Unfortunately for them, Dave Elliot’s an ex-Green Beret. That’s gonna hurt.

And so begins Vertical Run. This is one of those books which perfectly define the expression “page-turner”. Garber knows his stuff, and the pacing of the book is relentless, driving you to read later and later in the night.

Thrillers are built on premises, and Garber knows how to milk his carefully. Pretty much every detail sounds authentic and he effortlessly builds suspense and excitement out of a few simple actions by his protagonist. The book is filled with these “oh-so-cool” scenes that elevate the novel from a run-of-the-mill thriller to something that readers will remember with a certain affection long after they’ve read the final line.

There are a few problems, such as the lessening of tension in the last third, the slightly underwhelming conclusion or the fact that the protagonist has so much trouble figuring out why everyone wants to terminate him with prejudice. (Most seasoned readers will immediately recognize the crucial hint as soon as it’s mentioned. Unfortunately, this information is withheld until well past the halfway point, and the protagonist doesn’t figure it out until more than fifty pages after.)

There have been persistent rumors, ever since Vertical Run‘s original publication, that the novel is headed for the silver screen. It certainly has all the ingredients required for a big thriller: Sympathetic-but-competent protagonist, evil-but-clever antagonist, love interest, action set-pieces and clear narrative. While final release is probably a while away -Hollywood development processes being what they are-, you can do the next best thing right now and grab the book.

Don’t skip out on the epilogue, which send a nice little curveball in what you’d expect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *