By Mark Harris
Updated March 24, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST
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The Standoff

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A hostage expert cuts the deal of a lifetime in ‘Standoff’ Pop quiz for suspense-thriller fans: 1. If, within the first five pages of a novel, the stoic, embattled, man-of-few-words protagonist is introduced as a recovering alcoholic, you can be sure that: (A) He has put his problem behind him and you’ll never hear about it again. (B) His ”great goddamn immense thirst” will begin to torture him when things get really bad, around p. 175. 2. When a young, eager rookie law-enforcement officer with a pregnant wife is described as believing that he has ”always been lucky,” you can be sure that: (A) He will be in absolutely no danger. (B) You will read the rest of the novel fearing for his life. 3. When our hero, an experienced hostage negotiator trying to draw out a possibly psychotic white-supremacist felon who’s holed up with his family in a Montana cabin, says, ”I know we can reach an acceptable and mutually dignified solution,” you can be sure that: (A) They’re on their way to becoming good friends. (B) At least one of them will not be around for the sequel. The Standoff (Doubleday, $23.50), 27-year-old Chuck Hogan’s soon-to-be-a- major-motion-picture first novel, has what can politely be called a healthy respect for the requirements of the form, and its most pleasant surprise is that Hogan, for the most part, knows the difference between a convention and a cliche. Yes, his good guy, John Banish, will seem familiar to anyone who’s seen the kind of major motion picture based on the kind of novel this is. He’s hard as nails (a 26-year FBI veteran) but filled with inner pain. He’s close to retirement but forced to take on one last task, a David Koresh-like showdown on an isolated mountaintop. But Hogan doesn’t just write by the numbers; in The Standoff, he takes care with structure, with pacing, with the sound of language, and with the placement of one taut scene after another. His lean, evocative prose helps to compensate for some plot shortcomings (biggest problem: a villain who isn’t much more than a disembodied voice on the telephone) and keeps his story gusting along, even if you never quite forget that the answers to the above questions have long been written in stone. In each case-and overall-it’s a B.

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The Standoff

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