Andrew Klavan, Corruption (St. Martin’s, 1993)
[originally posted 19Feb2002]
Klavan is finally starting to get the reputation he deserves, though the recent film version of Don’t Say a Word may well knock him back a notch. But the author of such recently acclaimed novels as The Uncanny and The Animal Hour has been around, lurking in the shadows, for much longer than most folks give him credit. Corruption was written during his time back in those shadows, and thus the run-of-the-mill Klavan fan may be unaware of it. That’s too bad, because Corruption may be Klavan’s magnum opus; this is the book that should have put him on the map almost ten years ago.
Corruption, as its title implies, is the story of a corrupt small town. Klavan didn’t submit to the usual stereotypes here; his small town is in upstate New York rather than a mostly rural Southern state, and he resists (despite the back-cover-blurb’s author to pin everything on the local sheriff) attacking any one particular member of the town as being more corrupt than any other. In fact, the staff of the local paper, the editor of which has been engaged in a pitched battle with the sheriff for the last seven years, isn’t exactly the gleaming white knight one would expect from a crusading media presence; there’s more than enough going on under the surface at the paper to make the astute reader wonder which enterprise is more corrupt, the politicians or those seeking to expose them. There are bad guys aplenty here, including drug dealers with mafia ties, puppet electoral candidates, etc., but one wonders if there’s one true good guy anywhere to be found in the novel. This is the novel’s main point of brilliance;
once the underlying scandal is fully revealed (the mystery portion of the novel), the reader immediately wonders whether it’s really as bad as anything that’s been done to uncover it. (The novel’s other truly brilliant undertaking is the last chapter. In fact, the last page stands out as well; Klavan takes a big chance with the way he ends the novel, and in my view it pays off nicely. Without revealing any plot points, I will caution the reader that anyone who likes everything tied up in a nice, neat little bow when the back cover of a book is closed is going to have a very hard time with the way this novel ends. I thought it brilliant and, more importantly, true to the way things really work.)
With excellently drawn characters, a decent mystery underlying them, and Klavan’s usual page-turning style, this one’s sure to satisfy most mysterygoers who can get past the caveat in the last paragraph above. If you’re not a Klavan fan, or hadn’t previously heard of this particular Klavan novel, do yourself a favor and get acquainted. ****