The Program by Gregg Hurwitz

One of the first things I noticed reading Gregg Hurwitz is his eye for detail. Whether he’s describing a weapon or a Quonset hut, Hurwitz gets after it; he manages to do this without drawing too much attention to the way he spreads this precise approach throughout his novel. THE PROGRAM is the first novel I’ve read by Gregg; it won’t be the last.

THE PROGRAM features Tim Rackley, a Deputy US Marshal based in Los Angeles; this is a series character, who, with his wife Dray, is recovering from the death of their child. A Hollywood producer whose daughter has been lured into a cult hires Tim to locate her and, if possible, bring her home. The cult is recruiting young people from places like the Pepperdine campus in Malibu; at this point my New York cynicism reared its ugly head. A cult in Southern California? What’s at stake? Are we fast-forwarding to some Patti Hearst moment where everyone on Rodeo Drive will grab an Uzi and rebel? The moment passes, however, due to the author’s skill as a storyteller; he draws us into Tim’s world; his anguish gives the story a dark drive.

Again we tread some familiar ground with Tim exiled from his job as a result of actions described in a previous book, KILL CLAUSE. His outcast status is given a temporary reprieve when Tim is reinstated for the duration of the investigation. The book takes off during an undercover visit to the cult’s recruiting colloquium. This weekend event is described in vivid terms; we see Tim struggle to maintain control of his emotions and his mind. The techniques employed by the cult’s leader are classics of psychological sleight of hand; Tim encounters Leah, the young woman he’s been hired to locate. He can’t simply snatch her, there’s no legal basis for that. Leah’s mental state is fragile; to kidnap her might leave her damaged permanently. She has to want to come home and therein lies the story’s real battleground.

THE PROGRAM is well-paced and very well-written. It moves to climax through a satisfying series of confrontations with TD, the cult’s charismatic leader. The names of some minor characters were a source of confusion, but not enough of a distraction to break the flow. This intelligent thriller will leave you on the edge of your seat right up to the last page.