The unabridged ten-disc audio version of Stephen Frey’s Forced Out, despite its rather flawed ending, is a good choice for commuters faced with the same old mind-numbing drive or train ride. L.J. Ganser, the audio book narrator, helps give each of the main characters a distinct and recognizable personality and his reading style contributes to the story’s steadily building suspense.
Frey certainly gave himself a lot to work with in Forced Out: a washed-up New York Yankee baseball scout that stumbles upon a can’t-miss prospect buried deep in the depths of minor league baseball, a crime boss obsessed with revenging the death of his little grandson, a mafia hit man with a conscious and his own problem obsession, and a black teenager who dreams of owning a baseball team one day.
Jack Barrett, disgraced Yankee scout, is a few years past sixty and he is feeling each and every one of those years. He can hardly believe that the twists and turns in his life have finally forced him to share a home in Florida with his daughter because neither of them can really afford to live on their own anymore. When Jack, always looking for a way back into the good graces of the Yankees, recognizes that Florida minor-leaguer Mikey Clement has all the tools to make him into a great player, he dedicates himself to getting Clement a tryout with the team. Stunned at Clement’s rejection of his help, Jack is determined to find out why Clement seems so afraid of him.
Meanwhile, New York hit man Johnny Bondano has been ordered to find and kill the man involved in the hit-and-run accident that killed the young grandson of his mob boss. Bondano considers himself to be an honorable man despite the nice living that he makes by disposing of the men he is ordered to kill. Up to now, at least, he has convinced himself that everyone he has killed deserved to die, even if only for the reason that they were horrible human beings. But this time his code of ethics is being tested because he is not at all sure that the man marked for death is the one who actually struck and killed the boy.
Frey fills his parallel storylines with enough colorful, though often stereotypical, supporting characters and incidents to keep the reader interested in both worlds, especially once the reader comes to realize that bad things are bound to happen when the two sets of characters finally collide. He expertly raises the tension level, as things ever so slowly come to a head, something that takes more than ninety percent of the book’s pages. And then, in one climactic scene, it is pretty much all over.
And to make matters worse, Frey resolves the fates of several major and minor characters and their side-stories in just a few short pages preceding the book’s very predictable final scene (not to mention one pivotal character that just seems to disappear from the story completely). Readers will be uncomfortably jarred by the sudden change-of-pace that marks the book’s last few pages during which characters and incidents that took countless pages to develop are suddenly dispensed with in a matter of a few paragraphs. They may, in fact, very well feel a bit cheated.
All of that said, Forced Out, the audio book, gave me what I always hope to get from an audio book: a fast paced, easy-to-follow story with enough twists and turns to keep me awake on my early morning commutes. However, it would never have worked for me as a printed book - and I would have been especially furious at the way Frey handled the last five percent or so of the story.
Rated at: 2.5