When I read Steve Cavanagh’s last Eddie Flynn novel I noted how the author always managed to continually raise the stakes and see them. The ride he took us on in Thirteen was incredible and looked forward to the next one, confident that he could take it even further, even if I couldn’t imagine how. Well, one way you could look at Twisted is that Cavanagh has pulled back, writing his first standalone thriller outside the Eddie Flynn series. The other way of looking at it is that he’s raised the stakes again by blindsiding expectations and heading in a different direction. He certainly knows how to keep the reader on their toes.
Anyone who knows a Steve Cavanagh thriller knows that it’s all about the twist. Maybe not all about the twist, because he takes the reader on an amazing ride before they get there. In a novel called Twisted, well he’s obviously going to pull out all the stops and you better believe he carries it off. The twist in Twisted is that the twist comes at the start and he spends the rest of the story unravelling the mystery. Even then you know you’re not going to get the whole story until the end, and there will be a number of plot complications and, yes, additional twists to get your head around.
And in a way, the story he has chosen to tell is one that lends itself very well to such dramatic twists; it’s about a writer, a highly successful writer of thrillers, a mystery writer who is himself a mystery and has a dark secret of their own. And if I read it correctly – it’s easy to get confused – and without giving away any spoilers, the twist at the start is that someone is planning to murder the writer who has been going under the name of J. T. LeBeau at the funeral of J.T. LeBeau, only to be confronted by someone who knows that he is J.T. LeBeau.
How’s that for convoluted? And actually there’s potentially even a twist earlier than that, because Twisted carries two title pages, the first identifying the author of Twisted as Steve Cavanagh, the second crediting Twisted to J.T. LeBeau, and indeed the book carries the name of J.T. LeBeau on the top of the recto page of the novel throughout. So are we reading a Steve Cavanagh novel or a J. T. LeBeau novel?
Well, you’ve got a while to let all those matters simmer while the author (whoever it may be) relates how Paul Cooper’s secretive life as a writer in Port Lonely starts to unravel when his wife Maria discovers a bank statement in his drawer and finds out that he has twenty million dollars in a J. T. LeBeau Enterprises account. Maria is furious that Paul has been keeping this a secret from her and is ready to confront him, but Daryl, a waiter who works at the local Country Club who she has been having an affair with, recognises the name J. T. LeBeau as being one of the most successful writers of blockbuster thrillers in the USA, his identity a closely guarded secret. If they play their cards right, Maria and Daryl can set up a nice little life for themselves.
It sounds like classic 50s noir material, a Double Indemnity-like plot where the wife involves some poor sap who is head-over-heels for her to get rid of a rich and unwanted husband so that she can get her hands on his money, or maybe she wants the money and the lover. Unfortunately, there’s no legal way she can do it, and not even a lawyer like Eddie Flynn could pull that off for her (Cavanagh’s hustling street lawyer getting a little reference here, nothing more). The traditional techniques of murder, blackmail and impersonation are employed, but Cavanagh has plenty of other cards in the deck to play with in his own highly charged, fast-moving, quickly evolving tale.
To say any more about the plot of a Steve Cavanagh thriller is unnecessary, and it goes without saying that there are plenty of twists and turns, murderous intentions, cliff-hanger revelations and complete reversals of direction in Twisted. Whether it’s a parody of this genre is harder to say – Cavanagh namechecks a number of similar authors who are supposedly connected to the pseudonym of J. T. LeBeau – but that’s a fine line that Cavanagh likes to play with even in his Eddie Flynn books. I’m not sure I’m as much a fan of J. T. LeBeau as I am of the author’s Eddie Flynn series, but it’s good to see Cavanagh stretch himself further and Twisted is every bit the compelling page-turner you would expect it to be.
Comic review: Omni-Visibilis by Trondheim and Bonhomme
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum