Shaker by Scott Frank
Knopf, 2016; 352 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
After years of distinguishing himself as one of Hollywood’s finest screenwriters, Scott Frank makes his debut as a novelist with Shaker, a page-turner of a thriller filled with clever twists and the author’s trademark hard-boiled dialogue. The book opens in Los Angeles, where criminal Roy has arrived in town from New York to kill a man for his boss. After the murder, Roy stumbles across a mugging in which a local politician is murdered by a group of black teenagers and Roy is shot in the process. This unexpected series of violent acts set into motion several plots in which characters play against each other in a fight for survival. Roy must escape the hospital from the watchful eyes of the police, so he can retrieve his gun from the teens who shot him and kill them as payback. One of the teens, the calculating and ruthless Science, wants to kill Roy before Roy comes after him. Meanwhile, a disgraced Los Angeles cop named Kelly Maguire hunts down the teens while trying to find out what put out-of-towner Roy in the middle of this violent crime. None of them, however, can anticipate the arrival of Albert Budin, Roy’s old mentor out for his own revenge.
In Shaker, Scott Frank does a hell of a job to ratchet up the tension from the get-go, setting the book in the aftermath of an earthquake that has left the city in shambles, worsening the already inflamed tensions felt by the citizens. Even with so many competing plots, Scott Frank beautifully balances the many storylines for drama and tension. The novel is a different beast from screenwriting, but Frank has transitioned into novel writing with the deft touch of a seasoned crime author. His past films, such as Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report, showed that he has a great ear for language and is a master tactician for intricate plotting, but the novel really gives him a chance to open up his worlds and root his characters into fascinatingly rich backstories of how these broken people came to be and how the sins of their past will come back to them in the future. Scott Frank may not give up his dream job in Hollywood, but I hope Shaker isn’t the last we’ve heard of him as a crime novelist.