A Thriller Plus

A Thriller Plus

Review of Mark Wish’s Necessary Deeds

By Jack Smith, WTP Guest Writer

Necessary Deeds by Mark Wish (Regal House Publishing, January 2024; 208 pp.; $18.95; ISBN 9781646034079).

Mark Wish is a prize-winning short story writer and novelist.  Necessary Deeds, his fourth novel, is a high-octane thriller, a murder mystery, a suspense novel—and more. It’s also a love story. All in all, it’s a page turner.

Who killed three highly successful debut women novelists?  Is it an internationally known male poet who has never published a book? Is it a woman author jealous of the success of other women writers? The killer is initially dubbed the Success Killer. The protagonist, Matt Connell, undercover for the FBI, is a former literary agent. He’s a man who, ironically, has recently been released from Sing Sing, where he was imprisoned for killing a man who, he thought, had slept (but didn’t) with his unfaithful wife.  Perhaps his expertise as a literary agent can help the FBI solve the crime. The suspects continually change, keeping the reader guessing as every good mystery/thriller must do.

But this novel is more than a thriller; it’s a hybrid of suspense and the author’s signature wit, his penchant for the quirky. One example is the protagonist’s sizing up of the exact amount of time—down to the minute—that it took from the time he found out about his wife’s infidelity to his killing of her lover (the wrong man, as it turned out). Twenty-eight minutes. But there’s no grief on his part. The twenty-eight minutes is more of a thing to obsess over: how, in a relatively short period, his life changed for the worse. That’s the protagonist.  What about the serial killer? When one woman author is killed and has no book contract, the FBI man in touch with Matt Connell says they need to change the name of the killer to the Lady Killer.  We laugh.  We also laugh when our protagonist uses the term “perp” and is told “ We don’t use the word perp . . . .That’s just what they call them on TV. ” When the protagonist points out that this woman victim didn’t have a book contract, the Bureau decides to term the serial killer The Talent Killer. Back to his old role as literary agent, Matt Connell is told: “your task is now to zero in on the least promising literary talent you can find.” Preposterous for an agent, but this isn’t an ordinary thriller; to some degree, it’s also a spoof of this genre.

Spoof or not, don’t be looking for cartoonish, cardboard characters. Necessary Deeds is peopled with real characters and real life. Only consider Blaine Davis, the man who, in fact, did have sex with Matt Connell’s wife, and then, when Matt ended up in Sing Sing, married her—Blaine, who lacks talent and for whom Matt did a total rewrite of his novel and made him famous. Now Davis wants more rewriting help, but can our protagonist be a party to that, regardless of Blaine’s offer of $250K? The reader will surely find Blaine Davis all too real. And what about Matt? He killed out of sheer rage. In Matt Connell, Wish creates a sympathetic character—or at least an empathetic one—in spite of the fact that he killed a man—the wrong man to boot.

Necessary Deeds is also a love story—one we’re not likely to forget. This is especially true of the protagonist’s love of Em, a suspect early on.  Em, he finds alluring, and almost impossible to resist.  And yet as a Bureau man—and he’s loving his work for the FBI—he must avoid any contact with her.  But he breaks the rules in spite of his better judgment. Now where does he stand? He could get sent back to Sing Sing.

Necessary Deeds keeps us going. Each suspect prepares us for the next.  Each page moves us to the next. The secret to any great thriller is a complex protagonist and a riveting plot. Wish has both.

Jack Smith is a fiction writer with short story publications in North American Review, Texas Review, Southern Review, Night Train, and others. His novel Hog to Hogwon the George Garrett Fiction Prize and was published by Texas Review Press in 2008. He has published five other novels: Icon, Being, Miss Manners for War Criminals, Run, and If Winer Comes, all published by Serving House Books. He has published reviews in numerous literary magazines, including Ploughshares, Georgia Review, Missouri Review, Prairie  Schooner, American Book Review, Pleiades, Texas Review, Mid-American Review, and Iowa Review.

Leave a Reply