"A first rate thrill-ride" by New York Times bestselling author Joseph Finder
Jason Steadman is a thirty-year-old sales exec for a major electronics company in Boston. He's witty and well-liked but, to the chagrin of his ambitious wife, it looks like his career has hit a ceiling. He lacks the one thing that could help him get ahead: a killer instinct.
All of that changes when Jason meets Kurt, a former Special Forces officer just back from Iraq. Looking for a decent pitcher for the company softball team, Jason gets Kurtonce drafted by the majorsa job in Corporate Security. Soon, good things start to happen for Jasonand bad things start to happen to Jason's rivals.
Jason discovers too late that Kurt has been paving his path to the top by the most efficient means available. Now that his new best friend has become the most dangerous enemy imaginable, Jason stands to lose far more than his job.
A riveting tale of ambition, intrigue, and the price of success, Killer Instinct is Joseph Finder at his very best.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Joseph Finder
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Joseph Finder
All rights reserved.
Okay, so I'm an idiot.
The Acura went into a ditch because I was trying to do too many things at once. Radiohead's "The Bends" was playing, loud, while I was driving home, too fast, since I was late as usual. Left hand on the wheel, while with my right hand I was thumbing my BlackBerry for e-mails, hoping I'd finally nailed a deal with a huge new customer. Most of the e-mails were blowback from the departure of our divisional vice president, Crawford, who'd just jumped ship to Sony. Then my cell phone rang. I dropped the BlackBerry on the car seat and grabbed the cell.
I knew from the ring that it was my wife, Kate, so I didn't bother to turn down the music — I figured she was just calling to find out when I'd be home from work so she could get dinner ready. She'd been on a tofu kick the last few months — tofu and brown rice and kale, stuff like that. It had to be really good for you, since it tasted so bad. But I'd never tell her so.
That wasn't why she was calling, though. I could tell right away from Kate's voice that she'd been crying, and even before she said anything I knew why.
"DiMarco called," she said. DiMarco was our doctor at Boston IVF who'd been trying to get Kate pregnant for the last two years or so. I didn't have high hopes, plus I didn't personally know anyone who'd ever made a baby in a test tube, so I was dubious about the whole process. I figured high tech should be for flat-screen plasma monitors, not making babies. Even so, it felt like I'd been punched in the stomach.
But the worst thing was what it would do to Kate. She was crazy enough these days from the hormone injections. This would send her over the edge.
"I'm really sorry," I said.
"They're not going to let us keep trying forever, you know," she said. "All they care about is their numbers, and we're bringing them down."
"Katie, it's only our third try with the IVF stuff. It's like a ten percent chance or something per cycle anyway, right? We'll keep at it, babe. That's all."
"The point is, what are we going to do if this doesn't work?" Kate's voice got all high and choked, made my heart squeeze. "Go to California, do the donor egg thing? I can't go through that. Adopt? Jason, I can barely hear you."
Adoption was fine with me. Or not. But I'm not totally clueless, so instead I focused on turning down the music. There's some little button on the steering wheel that I've never figured out how to use, so with the thumb of my driving hand I started pushing buttons, but instead the volume increased until Radiohead was blaring.
"Kate," I said, but just then I realized that the car had veered onto the shoulder and then off the road. I dropped the phone, grabbed the wheel with both hands, cut it hard, but too late.
There was a loud ka-chunk. I spun the steering wheel, slammed on the brakes.
A sickening metallic crunch. I was jolted forward, thrown against the wheel, then backwards. Suddenly the car was canting all the way down to one side. The engine was racing, the wheels spinning in midair.
I knew right away I wasn't hurt seriously, but I might have bruised a couple of ribs slightly. It's funny: I immediately started thinking of those old black-and-white driver-ed shock movies they used to show in the fifties and sixties with lurid titles like The Last Prom and Mechanized Death, from the days when all cops had crew cuts and wore huge-brimmed Canadian Mountie hats. A guy in my college frat had a videotape of these educational snuff flicks. Watching them could scare the bejeezus out of you. I couldn't believe anyone learning to drive back then could see The Last Prom and still be willing to get behind the wheel.
I turned the key, shut off the music, and sat there for a couple of seconds in silence before I picked the cell phone off the floor of the car to call Triple A.
But the line was still open, and I could hear Kate screaming.
"Hey," I said.
"Jason, are you all right?" She was freaking out. "What happened?"
"I'm fine, babe."
"Jason, my God, did you get in an accident?"
"Don't worry about it, sweetheart. I'm totally — I'm fine. Everything's cool. Don't worry about it."
Forty-five minutes later a tow truck pulled up, a bright red truck, M.E. WALSH TOW painted on the side panel. The driver walked over to me, holding a metal clipboard. He was a tall, broad-shouldered guy with a scruffy goatee, wearing a bandana on his head knotted at the back and long gray-flecked brown hair in a kind of mullet. He was wearing a black leather Harley-Davidson jacket.
"Well, that sucks," the dude said.
"Thanks for coming," I said.
"No worries," Harley said. "Let me guess. You were talking on your cell phone."
I blinked, hesitated for a microsecond before I said sheepishly, "Yeah."
"Damn things are a menace."
"Yeah, totally," I said. Like I could survive without my cell phone. But he didn't exactly seem to be a cell phone kind of guy. He drove a tow truck and a motorcycle. Probably had a CB radio in there along with his Red Man chewing tobacco and Allman Brothers CDs. And a roll of toilet paper in the glove compartment. Kind of guy who mows his lawn and finds a car. Who thinks the last four words of the national anthem are "Gentlemen, start your engines."
"You okay?" he said.
"Yeah, I'm good."
He backed the truck around to my car, lowered the bed, hooked the winch up to the Acura. He switched on the electric pulley thing and started hauling my car out of the ditch. Fortunately, we were on a fairly deserted stretch of road — I always take this shortcut from the office in Framingham to the Mass Pike — so there weren't too many cars whizzing by. I noticed the truck had a yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbon sticker on one side and one of those black-and-white POW/MIA stickers on the windshield. I made a mental note to myself not to criticize the war in Iraq unless I wanted to get my larynx crushed by the guy's bare hands.
"Climb in," he said.
The cab of the truck smelled like stale cigar smoke and gasoline. A Special Forces decal on the dashboard. I was starting to get real warm and fuzzy feelings about the war.
"You got a body shop you like?" he said. I could barely hear him over the hydraulic whine of the truck bed mechanism.
I had a serious gearhead friend who'd know, but I couldn't tell a carburetor from a caribou. "I don't get into accidents too often," I said.
"Well, you don't look like the kinda guy gets under the hood and changes the oil himself," Harley said. "There's a body shop I know," he said. "Not too far from here. We're good to go."
We mostly sat there in silence while he drove. I made a couple of attempts to get a conversation started with Harley, but it was like striking a wet match.
Normally I could talk to anyone about anything — you name it, sports, kids, dogs, TV shows, whatever. I was a sales manager for one of the biggest electronics companies in the world, up there with Sony and Panasonic. The division I work for makes those big beautiful flat-panel LCD and plasma TVs and monitors that so many people lust after. Very cool products. And I've found that the really good sales reps, the ones who have the juice, can start a conversation with anybody. That's me.
But this guy didn't want to talk, and after a while I gave up. I was kind of uncomfortable sitting there in the front seat of a tow truck being chauffeured around by a Hells Angel, me in my expensive charcoal suit, trying to avoid the chewing gum, or tar, or whatever the hell it was stuck on the vinyl upholstery. I felt my rib cage, satisfied myself that nothing had broken. Not even all that painful, actually.
I found myself staring at the collection of stickers on the dashboard — the Special Forces decal, a "These Colors Don't Run" flag decal, another one that said "Special Forces — I'm the Man Your Mother Warned You About." After a while, I said, "This your truck?"
"Nah, my buddy owns the towing company and I help out sometimes."
Guy was getting chatty. I said, "He Special Forces?"
A long silence. I didn't know, were you not supposed to ask somebody if they were in the Special Forces or something? Like, he could tell me, but then he'd have to kill me?
I was about to repeat the question when he said, "We both were."
"Huh," I said, and we both went quiet again. He switched on the ball game. The Red Sox were playing the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park, and it was a tight, hard-fought, low-scoring game, pretty exciting. I love listening to baseball on the radio. I have a huge flat-panel TV at home, which I got on the friends-and-family discount at work, and baseball in high-definition is awesome. But there's nothing like a ball game on the radio — the crack of the bat, the rustling crowd, even the stupid ads for auto glass. It's classic. The announcers sound exactly the way they did when I was a kid, and probably sound the same as when my late father was a kid. Their flat, nasal voices are like an old pair of sneakers, comfortable and familiar and broken-in. They use all the well-worn phrases like "high — fly — ball!" and "runners at the corners" and "swing and a miss." I like the way they suddenly get loud and frenzied, shouting things like, "Way back! Way back!"
One of the announcers was commenting about the Sox pitcher, saying, " ...but even at the top of his game, he's never going to come close to the fastest recorded pitch speed of one hundred point nine miles an hour, thrown by ...? Jerry, you must know that one."
And the other guy said, "Nolan Ryan."
"Nolan Ryan," the first guy said, "very good. Clocked at Anaheim Stadium, August the twentieth, nineteen-seventy-four." Probably reading off the prompter, some research fed him by a producer.
I said, "Wrong."
The driver turned to me. "Huh?"
I said, "These guys don't know what they're talking about. The fastest recorded pitch was Mark Wohlers."
"Very good," Harley said, nodding. "Mark Wohlers. Hundred and three."
"Right," I said, surprised. "Hundred and three miles per hour, in nineteen-ninety-five."
"Atlanta Braves spring training." Then he smiled, an easy grin, his teeth even and white. "Didn't think anyone else knew that," he said.
"Of course, the fastest pitcher ever, not in the major leagues —"
"Steve Dalkowski," said Harley. "Hundred and ten miles an hour."
"Shattered an umpire's mask," I said, nodding. "So were you a baseball geek when you were a kid, too? Collection of thousands of baseball cards?"
He smiled again. "You got it. Those Topps gum packs with that crappy stale bubble gum inside."
"That always stained one of the cards in the pack, right?"
"Your dad take you to Fenway a lot?" I said.
"I didn't grow up around here," he said. "Michigan. And my dad wasn't around. Plus we couldn't afford to go to games."
"We couldn't either," I said. "So I listened to games on the radio a lot."
"Played baseball in the backyard?" I said. "Break a lot of windows?"
"We didn't have a backyard."
"Me neither. My friends and I played in a park down the street."
He nodded, smiled.
I felt like I knew the guy. We came from the same background, probably — no money, no backyard, the whole deal. Only I went to college and was sitting here in a suit, and he'd gone into the army like a lot of my high school buddies did.
We listened to the game for a bit. Seattle's designated hitter was up. He swung at the first pitch. You could hear the crack of the bat. "And there's a high fly ball hit deep to left field!" one of the announcers crowed. It was headed right for the glove of a great Red Sox slugger, who also happened to be a famously clumsy outfielder. And a space cadet who did things like disappear from left field, right in the middle of a game, to take a leak. When he wasn't bobbling the ball.
"He's got it," said the announcer. "It's headed right for his glove."
"He's going to drop it," I said.
Harley laughed. "You said it."
"Here it comes," I said.
Harley laughed even louder. "This is painful," he said.
A roar of disappointment in the ballpark. "The ball hit the back of the glove," said the announcer, "as he tried to slide to make the play. This is a major-league error right here."
We groaned simultaneously.
Harley switched it off. "I can't take it anymore," he said.
"Thank you," I said, as we pulled into the auto body shop parking lot.
It was a kind of scuzzy place that looked like a converted gas station. WILLKIE AUTOBODY, the sign said. The manager on duty was named Abdul and probably wouldn't have an easy time getting through airport security these days. I thought Harley would start off-loading the carcass of my poor Acura, but instead he came into the waiting room and watched Abdul take down my insurance information. I noticed another "Support Our Troops" sticker on the wall in here, too, and a Special Forces decal.
Harley said, "Jeremiah at home?"
"Oh, yeah," said Abdul. "Sure. Home with the kids."
"This is a friend of mine," he said. "Make sure you guys take care of him."
I looked around and realized the tow truck driver was talking about me.
"Of course, Kurt," Abdul said.
"Tell Jerry I was here," Harley said.
I read an old copy of Maxim while the tow truck driver and Abdul walked back to the shop. They returned a couple of minutes later.
"Abdul's going to put his best master tech on your car," Harley said. "They do good work here. Computerized paint-mixing system. Nice clean shop. Why don't you guys finish up the paperwork, and I'll get the car in the service bay."
"Thanks, man," I said.
"Okay, Kurt, see you," said Abdul.
I came out a few minutes later and saw Harley sitting in his tow truck, engine idling, listening to the game.
"Hey," he said, "where do you live? I'll drop you off."
"It's pretty far. Belmont."
"Grab your stuff out of the car and jump in."
"You don't mind?"
"I get paid by the hour, buddy. Not by the job."
I got my CDs off the floor of the car and my briefcase and baseball glove off the backseat.
"You used to work in a body shop?" I said when I'd gotten back into the truck.
The walkie-talkie started blaring, and he switched it off. "I've done everything."
"How do you like towing?"
He turned and gave me an Are you out of your mind? look. "I take whatever work I can get."
"People don't like to hire soldiers anymore?"
"People love to hire soldiers," he said. "Just not ones with DDs."
"What's a DD?"
"Dishonorable discharge. You gotta put it down on the application, and as soon as they see that, you're out the door."
"Oh," I said. "Sorry I asked. None of my business."
"No big deal. It just pisses me off. You get a DD, you don't get any VA benefits or pension. Sucks big-time."
"How'd it happen?" I said. "If you don't mind my asking."
Another long silence. He hit the turn signal, changed lanes. "Nah, I don't mind." He paused again, and I wasn't sure he was going to answer. Then he said: "The CO of my Special Forces A-team ordered half of us to go on this suicide mission, this broke-dick reconnaissance mission in Tikrit. I told the CO there was a ninety-nine percent chance they'd get ambushed, and guess what? The guys got ambushed. Attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. And my buddy Jimmy Donadio was killed."
He fell silent. Stared straight ahead at the road as he drove. Then: "A good kid, just about finished with his tour, had a baby he'd never even seen. I loved that guy. So I just lost it. Went after the CO — head-butted the bastard. Broke his nose."
"Wow," I said. "Jesus. I can't blame you. So you got court-martialed or something?"
He shrugged. "I'm lucky they didn't send me to Leavenworth. But nobody in the command wanted to draw any attention to what went down that night, and they sure as hell didn't want CID looking into it. Bad for army morale. More important, bad PR. So the deal was, dishonorable discharge, no time."
"Wow," I said again. I wasn't sure what CID was, but I wasn't going to ask.
"So are you, like, a lawyer or something?"
"Entronics. In Framingham."
"Cool. Can you get me a deal on a plasma TV?"
I hesitated. "I don't sell the consumer line, but I might be able to do something."
He smiled. "I'm kidding. I couldn't afford one of those anyway, even wholesale. So, I noticed the glove you got back there. Sweet. Rawlings Gold Glove, Heart of the Hide. Same as the pros use. Looks brand-new. Right out of the box. Just get it?"
"Um, about two years," I said. "Gift from my wife."
"Oh. You play?"
"Not much. Mostly on my company's team. Softball, not baseball, but my wife didn't know the difference." Our team sucked. We were on a losing streak that resembled the Baltimore Orioles' historically pathetic 1988 season. "You play?"
He shrugged. "Used to."
A long beat of silence.
"In school or something?" I said.
"Got drafted by the Detroit Tigers, but never signed."
Excerpted from Killer Instinct by Joseph Finder. Copyright © 2006 Joseph Finder. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Joseph Finder is at the top of his game with his new business thriller, ¿Killer Instinct.¿ Entronics salesman Jason Steadman is busy multitasking on his commute home when he drives into a ditch. Jason assists the tow-truck driver, Kurt Semko (an ex-Special Forces soldier), in getting a security job at Entronics. Then the rollercoaster ride begins¿proving once again, that no good deed goes unpunished. Kurt uses his Special Forces Operations skills to perform various acts of skullduggery that advance Jason¿s career. Strange things happen to those (both inside and outside of the company) who appear to hinder Jason¿s sales goals. Jason learns that business is war when people turn up dead. And, he wants out¿but there is no escape from his fiendish benefactor. Jason is ensnared in the life Kurt has set up for him. Jason must figure a way to outmaneuver his malicious patron. He employs double-crosses, duplicity, corporate politics, deceptions and corruption as he attempts to take his life back. Joseph Finder is a wonderful storyteller. ¿Killer Instinct¿ keeps you glued to the page. It is a remarkable tale of how an ordinary individual manages to extricate himself from a dilemma of substantial proportions after he is pushed to extremes.
It took about 2/3 of the book for it to finally get interesting. I almost quit and I have never done that. Too much boring sales and electronic talk. The ending was pretty good. Probably the only good part.
The most dragging, boring, weak ending book I've ever read/listened to. Thank heavens for the reader on the audio, his reading was what made me finish the book. Had it been a hard copy I would have returned it right away. This was my first of Joseph Finder and maybe my last. Too wordy, the author felt like he needed to describe everything. The main character is weak and submissive. After all that keeps happening to him he's still is surprised when the psycho is 3 step ahead of him! overall did not enjoy the book...It was torture!!!!
Through his amanuensis, the auhor kindly sent me an advance review copy of this work, and these are my impressions: Interspersed among developments in the cloak-and-dagger plot of Killer Instinct are small cameos, object lessons, and wry humor. With apologies to Edith Wharton and to the furniture company, I cite the first-person narrator's introductory comment about his nephew: 'Ethan is what you name a kid who you fully expect, even before he's born, to get beat up on the playground, his lunch money stolen, his glasses snapped in two, and his face pushed into the dirt.' And, after describing the boy's passing fascination with 'instruments of medieval torture,' the narrator comments, 'You had to wonder about his parents' marriage.' Vivid descriptions, keen psychological insights, fully limned characterizations, and a pervasive sense of the tenuousness of good fortune punctuate this memorable tale of an upwardly mobile couple who ascend the slippery pole from Belmont to Cambridge, from an Acura to a Mercedes, and from childlessness to impending parenthood.
Let¿s just start by saying that although I laughed at how stupid Jason is during the whole novel, I did enjoy the tale. I didn¿t really root for Kurt. Not really. But it was hard not to. Especially in the beginning when one or two of his stunts were truly justified. Jason¿s enemies needed to be taken down a peg or two. And Jason was so horribly, horribly dumb. Not a bad guy and I did kind of like him in a way.No wonder he couldn¿t get ahead on his own. He was outgunned and outclassed at just about every turn. He avidly listens to lame sales technique tapes and recites mantras of positive thinking to psyche himself up. He gives in easily and lets things happen to him instead of making them happen. The ability to put two and two together is pretty limited. He has no idea of creative thinking and has to be led. When light dawns, it¿s comical. Each time Kurt pulled some shenanigans, Jason was amazed. When it got ugly, he was surprised. Not just at the tactic, but at the escalation itself and the fact that he was outwitted at every turn. Kurt thought of everything and had his moved planned well ahead. He played Jason totally and the dumbass didn¿t even know it.It was fun to watch him realize it though. It took a couple of times for him to be shown that Kurt was taping his conversations for him to remember. And each time he found out, he was amazed and outraged. What a dope. Ditto with some of the escalating tactics and violence. What else did the guy expect? For Kurt to just quietly withdraw? To stand down? To be a good boy and heel?As if. It was also really interesting to watch Kurt ramp up. From simple almost practical joke level stuff (albeit really cruel practical jokes) to bloodshed and death. Like he was so fond of saying, `you can¿t put the toothpaste back in the tube¿. But in the end, Jason learned a thing or two from Kurt and got the better of him. I won¿t deconstruct it here, but there is a glaring problem with the final scene/solution. It has to do with timing and the order of events and the likelihood of Jason¿s plan working at all simply by the way he went about setting Kurt up. I also didn¿t believe that Kurt would leave Jason so unblemished, but I guess it would have been difficult to spend the required time on things if the evidence completely and totally pointed to Jason even after the resolution. Still, if I were Kurt, I would have certainly planted evidence to hang Jason for my crimes. One other things bothers me, too. The fact of Kurt and Jason meeting at all. I mean how lucky is the guy to happen to meet just the patsy he needs to orchestrate corporate corruption and mayhem? And how could he know that there would be a job opening in the patsy¿s company that he would have any kind of shot at getting. No, it¿s too strange. Maybe it¿s meant to be that way; showcasing the serendipity of it all. Kurt¿s set up of Jason begins after he meets him and is purely coincidental. Kurt just exploits the situation to the maximum.In the end it was an excellent, if preposterous, mover and a good thriller. I did hate the whole pregnant and ultra vulnerable wife angle though. But what else was Finder going to use, a dog? Have the guy be a single father like the book I¿m reading now? Some things are just like writing on the wall and the presence of a preggo wife, darling child or beloved feline always means disaster for said object. I think it¿s a rule.
The thrills in this book build slowly but then explode with a bang, just like the friendship between Jason and Kurt. Kurt helps Jason out when his car needs a tow and Jason takes note that Kurt, with his army special forces training, seems to have the kind of athletic prowess and assertive personality that Jason is lacking but could really use. Jason is a businessman for an electronics company and as he gets to know Kurt he finds that several of Kurt's special forces skills could be useful to him in the cutthroat world of business. He gets Kurt a job as a security officer at his firm and Kurt helps him out with a couple of things and at first Jason really appreciates all the help Kurt has given him. But then he becomes suspicious of some disturbing things going on around the office and he begins to wonder, just how 'safe' is Kurt anyway? The way this builds to a highly dangerous situation for Jason was wonderful. The scenario of someone you take a liking to at first and invite into your life suddenly surprising you was truly chilling. Fans of thrills and chills and truly creepy bad guys should give this one a read or a listen.
Jason Steadman, a District Sales Manager for Entronics Corp. is driving home from thinking about work and while using his cell phone to text, he looses control of his auto and crashes. He reports the accident, calls AAA for a tow, the tow truck driver that shows, Kurt Semko is an ex-Navy Seal with a dishonorable discharge. Jason and Kurt hit it off and Jason feels bad over Kurt's hard luck about employment because of his dishonorable discharge, he tells Kurt to call him at work, he has a friend that works in security for his company, he'll call him with a recommendation. After Kurt gets hired, he feels that he owes Jason favors, things rapidly start getting out of control, "I could be your best friend or your worst enemy."
Good level of suspense.
This is a pretty good read in the thriller category. Since it involves business intrigue, it takes a little longer to get going than the typical "spy" novel. But the wait is worth it. Interesting characters who are nicely fleshed out. Intriguing antagonist, plenty of mystery and surprises throughout. I recommend.
I really enjoyed this book. I think that many could identify with Jason...a person who did well, but just couldn't make that last leap to the upper echelons. By befriending Kurt, he gained someone who would make sure that happened by clearing the way. I do think a lot of readers enjoyed seeing things to come more clearly than Jason could, but enjoyed seeing him resolve things. I would definitely seek out other books by this author.
This is a great thriller. I really enjoyed it.
Jason Steadman befriends a War veteran, recruits him for the company softball team and offers him a job in corporate security.The vet helps him advance in his sales but at what cost?
It's a corporate thriller - nothing like I imagined. Great new plot. As many books as I have read, this has a really different twist. Great ending. It is a real page turner. You never know who you can trust in the business world. Gets you to thinking of different options and possibilities. Definately enjoy Joseph Finder novels.
Good writing, good characters, good plot all make for a great book!! Joseph Finder at his best.