by James Siegel (Warner Books, 2004)


(This column first appeared in the January 13, 2005 issue of ArtVoice.)


I had two problems with James Siegel's best-selling thriller, Derailed.


First, there is a phrase, deus ex machina, that is familiar to students of Greek and Roman drama and the early English morality plays. The term means an extremely artificial plot device. (In the original God -- deus -- simply descended in a machine -- ex machina -- to solve problems.) This book could well be read by students specifically to meet this kind of improbable intervention in its purest form.


Second, the book clearly fits the category Graham Greene calls an entertainment. As in Greene's This Gun for Hire, here you are asked to suspend your expectation of rational behavior. It may seem contradictory, but I add that this was a very fast read that captured and held my attention.


Also, if you like to be titillated by one of those scenes of rough sex that seem obligatory to thrillers nowadays, this is your book.


The story revolves around a married teacher's chance meeting with a sexy woman on his commuter train. They head for a hotel assignation where everything goes wrong. An armed man bursts in, pistol whips the protagonist and repeatedly rapes his date. The inevitable blackmail follows and further plot twists lead the hero deeper and deeper into his own special hell.


Someone certainly likes this novel. It was given a half million dollar publisher's sendoff and was nominated for best first mystery. You'll have to judge for yourself.-- Gerry Rising