Matt Richtel lives in San Francisco, from where he has covered high-tech news and issues for the New York Times for several years while also writing a successful comic strip, Rudy Park, which is set in an internet cafe. Hooked, Richtel's first novel, is a thriller set in a version of that high-tech world where everything is not necessarily what it appears to be.
Despite four years of medical school, Nat Idle has chosen to eke out a living as a freelance medical journalist, a decision that his friends and family find hard to understand. But making a living is not what is most on Nat's mind since the sudden death of the girl with whom he was desperately and completely in love. These days he is struggling to accept the idea that he will never see Annie again and to move on with the rest of his life. Little did he know that the rest of his life was about to change in a way that he never expected.
Seated in a San Francisco internet cafe, and engrossed in the book he was reading, Nat barely noticed the woman before she placed a folded note on his table and hurried away. He decided that she might be flirting with him and followed her out the door to see what would happen next. It was only when he realized that he would not be able to catch up with her before she left in her car that Nat opened the note and read: "Get out of the cafe - NOW!" A split second later the cafe exploded and he was thrown through the air.
When his head finally cleared and he was sure that he was still in one piece Nat realized that he recognized the handwriting on the note to be that of his long-dead girlfriend, Annie. Thus begins Nat's quest to solve the mystery of the note and how the cafe explosion could possibly have anything to do with Annie's tragic death. Along the way, Nat has to deal with being a suspect in the explosion and with the realization that everything that he has assumed about his relationship with the love of his life might have been nothing but a distorted illusion on his part. He meets good cops and bad cops - but can he tell which is which. He needs help if he is going to survive life on the run while still trying to solve the mystery of that note, but whom can he trust?
Hooked has a lot going for it. It's written in a style that allows for it to be read at the quick pace that works best for thrillers and its opening chapters do, indeed, hook the reader by introducing the question of whether or not Nat's girlfriend might still be alive. But about two-thirds of the way through the book, when some of the answers started to come, the plot took a twist that was less compelling and which completely changed the nature of the book into one that began to bore me. I looked forward to the end of the book for all the wrong reasons. But as he shows in the first part of Hooked, Matt Richtel is a talented writer and I'm curious to see what is next for him.
To be fair, based on the physical appearance of this book, I'm probably not really the target audience for Hooked. First impressions are important when it comes to convincing a customer to lift a particular book from the shelf, and if I had seen Hooked in a bookstore rather than having received a copy from the publisher, I doubt that I would have chosen it for a second look. It has a psychedelic dust jacket that seems to be aiming for some sort of optical illusion and I find the colors of the book itself to be rather strange, yellow boards with baby blue trim and bright red lettering. Now that I've read the book I can see how its appearance relates to its plot but I think that its look probably will scare off as many potential readers as it attracts. (My copy of the book does not appear exactly as the pictured one that accompanies this post, so it may be that I'm describing a review copy that is different from the retail version of the book.)
Rated at: 2.5