Review by C.J. Bunce
When you think of the 1985 movie Fletch, you probably think of Chevy Chase’ s humorous, over-the-top take on undercover reporter I.M. Fletcher. But Fletch the movie was only loosely based on the award-winning mystery novels by author Gregory Mcdonald. Mcdonald wrote dozens of novels before his death in 2008. One of those is Snatched, a kidnapping story reprinted this year for the first time in 30 years by Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint.
Originally published in 1978 as Who Took Toby Rinaldi? in the U.S. and Snatched in the UK, Mcdonald crafted a thriller about the botched kidnapping of the eight-year-old son of a Persian Gulf region ambassador to the United Nations as he readies a proposal with global impact before the U.N. The proposal itself is a bit of a Pelican Brief MacGuffin, but the real action follows a thug named Spike as he hides the abducted boy, Toby Rinaldi. Toby was on his way to meet his mother Christina for a visit to a Disneyland-esque theme park in California called Fantazyland. Key to the action and tension are the efforts and setbacks faced by Christina as she attempts to catch the kidnapper, despite her husband’s foreign security squad in the U.S. trying to keep the kidnapping secret.
Snatched is a great read. Its slow, simmering pace reflects nailbiters of the 1960s-1970s like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Charley Varrick, Magnum Force, or Bullitt. Many of the characters are intentionally frustrating. The characters are frustrated, and that is channeled to the reader page after page. Toby’s father is caught between the direct demands of his king and responsibility to family. The political factions behind the kidnapping plot–a small group of tried and tested, denizen mercenaries whose failure to communicate and coordinate because of their own personal distractions cause them to trip over each other as they attempt what might otherwise be the simplest of crimes. Despite Mcdonald’s Fletch character translated to the big screen, make no mistake: Snatched is not a comedy. It’s also low on violence, other than a little boy in jeopardy as the main plot point, which is handled deftly by Mcdonald.
It’s really Christina that sets Snatched apart from other kidnapping stories like Taken, Ransom, The Transporter, etc. Toby and illiterate, incompetent abductor Spike develop a unique relationship reminiscent of chemistry between the boy and kidnapper in A Perfect World. Something about setting a story in a would-be safe environment like an amusement park–as Stephen King did in his recent Hard Case Crime story Joyland (reviewed here at borg.com)–adds a great contrast to the kidnapping, adding its own tension and dread. Snatched is the kind of novel you find yourself casting with actors after making it only a third of the way through the book: Christina seems a bit like Kim Basinger playing the similar role in Cellular, and Spike could be played by any actor from the Reservoir Dogs to Quentin Tarantino himself (think From Dusk Till Dawn), although Spike’s incredible D-level villain stupidity throughout the tale would also be handled well by Johnny Knoxville.
Snatched is now available from Hard Case Crime here at Amazon.com, bundled in a single volume with Mcdonald’s other kidnapping novel, Safekeeping under the title Snatch (Snatched is the first “snatch,” Safekeeping is the second “snatch”). The only oddity is the traditional Hard Case Crime cover (a great Patrick Faricy cover at that), which, although consistent with all the great sexy pulp covers of the imprint, just doesn’t really fit this novel, which is completely devoid of sex.