Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book #6 - Tunnel Vision

Disclaimer: I have to be honest. The author of Tunnel Vision, Gary Braver is one of my most cherished writerly friends. He is a mentor, and without his words of encouragement many years ago at my first Maui Writer's Conference, I would not have pursued writing. His continued faith in me is inspiring and treasured.

That said, Tunnel Vision is an extraordinary book - no bias required.

At conferences (and in his writing classes), Gary often lectures on the 10 Ingredients of a Good Thriller. Since I write thriller, I know them all off by heart. I thought I'd reiterate them here in the context of an unbiased review of one of Gary's best novels, Tunnel Vision.

Rule #1 - A Strong Story
Gary teaches that "dread" is often accomplished through the quest for some "elixir" or cure-all to make things better, or to provide a deeper understanding to a bigger question. Consider the "what if" or story questions of Tunnel Vision:

What if you didn't have to die to know that heaven exists?
And what if that knowledge could get you killed?

Bam! You had me at hello, Gary.

Rule #2 - Dread
Thrillers are about emotions - primarily the feeling of dread. Good thriller writers are continuously turning up the dread factor.

Consider this jacket cover praise for Tunnel Vision, from another of my revered mentors, NY Times Bestselling author, Steve Berry:

"A tantalizing premise, stylish prose, sharply etched characters, and tension that ratchets up degree by degree."

This is NOT a religious book. But, as you can imagine, the question of God and an afterlife have long been debated by people on both sides of the belief coin. It's a breeding ground for conflict, and in Tunnel Vision, that conflict quickly becomes deadly.

Rule #3 - Write About the Underdog
Protagonist Zack Kashian has been hurt in the past. Strained family bonds, failed relationships, trouble with money and gambling, and as if that isn't enough, in the first few chapters of the book, he's in a bike accident that sends him into a coma. Yes, he's an underdog.

But then he rises from his near death experience on Easter, quoting the Lord's prayer in the original Aramaic. Not such an underdog anymore - in fact everyone is hoping for a piece of the new Miracle Man, including the killer.

Gary does everything right in terms of creating sympathy for Zack. You'll be rooting for him all the way.

Rule #4 - Make Clear What the Protagonist's Goals Are
Zack's goals change from the beginning of the book, where he's really just in need of some money to get him out of gambling debt, to the end of the book, where what he really wants is...I can't say. Spoilers!

Rule #5 - Multiple Points of View
Thrillers are almost always written in third person shifting point of view, which allows the reader to see the book from different eyes. Of course, there are a few exceptions - Steve Martini writes some fabulous first-person thrillers, for example.

Every POV in Tunnel Vision has a distinct voice. And the voice of the killer is extremely compelling.

Rule #6 - Open the Book With Action
Check. Check. Triple check. In the very opening scene, a man rises from the dead and stumbles out of the hospital. No, this is not a zombie book. Gary's novels are rooted in science and new discovery, which may sometimes seem paranormal, but is not. It's just thrilling science.

Rule #7 - The Main Character Has to Change by the End of the Book
Yes, and in this case, quite convincingly. Of course, this is true in all fiction.

Rule #8 - Pacing Must Be High
Gary is a tight writer - not a lot of extra fluff between the covers. If you're looking for sweeping paragraphs of elegant prose that transport you to a different time and place, this isn't the book for you. Gary gets the job done - but quickly, and with suspense-building precision. Near the end of Tunnel Vision, the action is so fast, it's like a ping pong match, each POV digging deep for the final nail in the coffin. Brilliant pacing!

Rule #9 - Cliffhanger Endings for Chapters
Those who have read my work often comment on my cliffhanger chapter endings. I learned them from Gary, who is a master at getting you to turn the page. Many of the chapters in Tunnel Vision are short, but they make their point. And you will continue to the next scene. I dare you not to.

Rule #10 - Teach the Reader Something
Perhaps it is this rule that has changed the way I think of thriller fiction over the years. I adore the research of any story building project, but more than that, I am a sucker for learning. Gary's books are jammed with intriguing research and fast facts. Gary knows when to pull back, too, so you never feel like you're reading a textbook. I love this about each of his books, but perhaps most in this one.

I've read all of Gary's books and though I have enjoyed each, some obviously stand out more than others. Tunnel Vision is one of the best. Skin Deep remains my favorite, but Tunnel Vision is a very close second.

Congratulations, my dear friend, on another thrilling read.

- Dawn

The Book in my Bag Today: Switched, Amanda Hocking


  1. Definitely my favorite of the lot... Like a fine wine, he keeps getting better with age!

    1. Indeed. Though I still love Skin Deep the most. Something fundamentally creepy about that one I've never been able to shake.

  2. Oooooh, I've got chills. Adding to my want list RIGHT NOW.

    1. Good idea, Vicki. Gary is a masterful storyteller! Let me know what you think.

  3. what an interesting premise! Thanks for this review and introducing us to Gary! Sounds like a worthy read!

    1. Thanks, Creepy! I think you would enjoy it - and Gary is always a safe bet. Thrilling writer, and awesome friend.

  4. Great insight and the book sounds amazing!!!

    1. Thanks, Carolyn. It IS amazing. Hope you add it to your TBR list.