Trust No One
by Gregg Hurwitz
Published by St. Martin’s Press
352 pages, 2009
In Hurwitz We Trust
Reviewed by Anthony Rainone
Nick Horrigan is a man running from his past. He has few friends he can trust. His relationship with his family is in tatters. His employment history is mediocre. Horrigan is on a linear path to obscurity. Then, things change in a heartbeat. Horrigan is taken from his Santa Monica apartment in the early morning hours by Secret Service agents. He is told that a terrorist is threatening to blow up a nearby nuclear power plant. The terrorist will talk only to him. Horrigan doesn’t know the man or why he’s been singled out. The agents dispatched to roust Horrigan are equally clueless and distrustful. From this opening, the reader is likely to believe that Trust No One is a novel about murderous terrorists, maybe the kinds of guys that 24’s Jack Bauer confronts on television. But then the plot blows up -- literally. From its ashes appears a political thriller of considerable ambition and tension. Author Gregg Hurwitz is a rising star among thriller writers, and Trust No One is going to make that ascent brighter.
Horrigan’s problems began 17 years earlier when he was just a high-school kid. He was then living with his mother, Callie, and her second husband, Frank Durant. Durant was a Secret Service agent assigned to the U.S. vice president’s detail in Los Angeles. Horrigan idolized his stepfather. Durant was a man of high moral standing and forthrightness, but he was a bit paranoid too. Durant was fearful, and he locked down the family house each evening as if it were Fort Knox.
One night, young Horrigan sneaked out for a date, leaving the security system disabled. Someone took advantage of that, entering the house and murdering Durant. Horrigan did not accept the LAPD’s conclusion -- that a random burglar committed the crime. Horrigan’s questions eventually drew the attention of the real murderers -- murky men with powerful ties to the federal government. They warned Horrigan to keep his mouth shut and leave Los Angeles. Horrigan fled to protect his mother from harm. In doing so, though, he also condemned himself to reliving the past. Each morning thereafter, he’s awakened at 2:18 a.m. -- the hour that Durant died in his arms.
For nine years, Horrigan moved constantly, always casting one suspicious eye backwards in search of the men who had threatened him. Eventually, he returned to the City of Angels -- only to be put in the position of negotiating with that supposed terrorist at the nuclear power plant, Charlie Jackman. Jackman tells Horrigan that he is an old war buddy of Frank Durant’s. He warns Horrigan that his “life is now on the line” and gives Horrigan a safe-deposit box key. But Jackman is killed by the Secret Service before he can explain further. Horrigan realizes that if he thought he had a target on his back before, he has an even bigger one now.
Hoping to ground himself amid all of this mystery and intrigue, Horrigan tries to restore his shattered relationship with his mother, Callie, who has since taken a third husband. Callie is angry because she has not seen her son for many years, but her maternal instincts kick in quickly. She convinces her current spouse, LAPD SWAT cop Steve Yates, to help her son. Trouble is, Horrigan has changed over time, adding layers of self-protection, becoming secretive, cautious and full of apprehension. He isn’t easy to know, or help.
Compelled to look into Charlie Jackman’s background, Horrigan’s trepidation only deepens after he finds $180,000 in cash hidden in Jackman’s house. He suspects that Jackman and Durant may have engaged in dark dealings in decades past that Jackman has only recently capitalized upon. Horrigan wonders whether the stepfather he loved so much was really a scumbag in disguise.
Trust No One is an ambitious political thriller, filled with the back-and-forth of subplots and hints that nearly everyone involved has an agenda and could be a bad guy. Even Callie and Steve become suspects at one point. Amid all of this, Horrigan finds himself embroiled in the current presidential campaigns of former Vice President-turned-Senator Jasper Caruthers and incumbent President Andrew Bilton. Both candidates hate each other and seek to exploit Horrigan’s escapade at the nuke plant as a means of wooing voters. Horrigan is ultimately convinced that one of those two candidates is in fact the mastermind behind the troubles past and present -- Durant’s death, the threats against Horrigan’s life, Jackman’s blackmail payoff and a string of other recent violent acts.
That Trust No One doesn’t end up as a storytelling muddle can be attributed to the author’s extraordinary mastery of his genre’s demands. He keeps the plot shifts well-delineated, and despite his pedal-to-the-metal pacing, lets readers into the intimate depths of Horrigan’s thinking. And Horrigan is a fascinating character study. A conflicted man, he holds himself responsible for Durant’s murder. His insularity destroyed his relationship with past girlfriend Induma, a brilliant, wealthy computer programmer he adored. It is painful to read how his love for her never died (“I’d do anything to be with you again”); however, his difficult history and palpable fears thwarted their relationship irrevocably. Hurwitz’s protagonist also has a sensitive and non-judgmental side. When things get tough, Horrigan calms himself by watching Looney Tunes cartoons (“I love Looney Tunes ... I love how no one dies”). Local homeless man Homer benefits from Horrigan’s good nature too. He lets Homer take showers at his apartment and gives him money, even though he knows that it will sometimes be used for alcohol rather than food.
This is a novel about redemption. Nick Horrigan has been running from things for nearly his whole life, but now he’s chosen to make a stand, to “shoulder the weight of memory, to reconcile with the past, to turn and face [my] troubles.” While continuing to hold his stepfather, Frank Durant, in high esteem, he eventually comes to terms with the real man. There’s a nice moment of foreshadowing, when Durant and a young Horrigan watch a tape of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Texas in 1963. Durant laments not having been there that day to help protect the president. But his presence may not have made a difference; if one is to believe modern conspiracy theories, U.S. government agents had a hand in Kennedy’s murder. Fast forward from there to Horrigan facing off against men of that same ilk. Men willing to follow orders from their superiors, even if it means torturing and killing.
Trust No One is in some ways a cautionary tale, because those very sorts of acts have taken place within the last decade. It just goes to show how easily power can corrupt, how unspeakable acts can be committed in the name of national security. What is not abused here is the reader’s investment in this thrilling novel. Trust No One delivers. | July 2009
Anthony Rainone is a contributing editor of January Magazine and a co-editor of the crime poetry chapbook series, The Lineup. His short story “Fall to Pieces” appears in the Summer 2009 issue of Spinetingler Magazine.