Reviewing a then-unknown thriller in these pages in early 1991, critic Gene Lyons called the book ”a likable enough diversion,” while noting (accurately) that ”dialogue and characterization are sometimes disappointing.” Two and a half years later, John Grisham’s The Firm has become a blockbuster as both book and movie and has spawned a cottage industry of imitations. The latest from a lawyer-turned-novelist, Phillip Margolin’s resourceful and entertaining Gone, But Not Forgotten (Doubleday, $22) tells the story of a smart young lawyer with a ghoul for a client—a cold-blooded executive who is (a) a serial killer; (b) a retired serial killer now being framed; or (c) merely a creep. Forgotten is a likable enough diversion in which dialogue and characterization are sometimes disappointing. In other words, it’s the next Firm.
The comparison isn’t much of a stretch. Gone, But Not Forgotten, which is already generating Grisham-scale hype, is not the most deftly written or imagined thriller ever to fly forth from an attorney’s desk drawer, but it shares with The Firm a virtue for which no graceful word has yet been invented: page-turnability.
Here’s the plot machinery, engineered to keep readers busy well into the night. Betsy Tannenbaum, intrepid attorney, is retained by Martin Darius, urbane yet sinister businessman, to represent him should he suddenly be charged with a crime—for instance, the series of rape-kidnappings that have been plaguing Portland, Ore., and are similar to a series of crimes committed years ago in Hunter’s Point, N.Y. (The signature in each case: a black rose left at the victim’s home, with a note that reads, ”Gone, but not forgotten.”) Add to this mix a detective on a years-long mission for justice, a nosy reporter, an estranged husband, an adorable little girl, a dose of Thomas Harris-style serial-killer gross-outness involving cattle prods, a tin can full of red herrings, and—I kid you not—the President of the United States, and you have a novel that is nothing if not single-minded in its determination to cover all the bases.
Then there is the matter of dialogue, which is often on the order of ”There’s something weird about this business, and it’s getting weirder by the minute.” As for characterization, there are three types: the good guys, the bad guys, and the don’t-know-yet guys. But Margolin’s unobtrusive, one- brick-at-a-time style is no drawback; most of the time, it stays out of the way of a fascinating, shivery plot that’s all lurches, curves, and thrills. Which, in a thriller, is all that really matters. B