BOOK REVIEW / Avenge this foul and almost natural murder: 'A Simple Plan' - Scott Smith: Doubleday, 9.99 pounds

Share
Related Topics
JUST suppose, for the sake of argument, that you found a crashed plane in the middle of nowhere containing nothing but a dead pilot and dollars 4.4m in used dollars 100 bills. Would you at least entertain the possibility of hanging on to the money? Sure you would. You might conclude that keeping the cash was bound to lead to trouble sooner or later from some quarter or other, because whoever had lost the dollars 4.4m was going to miss it very badly indeed. But maybe . . . You could always give it back, after all.

This is the simple plan arrived at by Hank Mitchell, his brother Jacob and Jacob's friend Lou when they come across the plane. These are men whose lives are going nowhere. Hank, who tells the story - makes the confession, if you like - is an accountant at an agricultural store in deepest Ohio. Jacob, his brother, is a fat, unhappy and unemployable man with a secret dream of buying back the family farm. And his friend Lou is the sort of boozy trailer-park psychopath you'd be crazy to let in on a plan that calls for the participants to keep their mouths shut.

But Hank has no choice. He is what passes for a natural leader in this company, being better educated in the ways of money. But the friends soon start bickering about what to do. And so the killing begins.

Smith has chosen his epigraph, from Mary Wollstonecraft, cunningly: 'No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.' These men are not evil - they are just sucked towards evil by the awesome possibilities of what they have stumbled upon. Hank in particular, whom we know best because he speaks to us, is really doing it for his wife Sarah and their child; he finds it easy enough to convince himself that the end, rescuing them from their humdrum existence, more than justifies the means. Indeed it is Sarah who turns out to have the most steel. As the bodies pile up (eight or nine, I lost count), she is the Lady Macbeth who bolsters Hank's resolve or comes up with new justifications for what he is doing. Not that Hank needs that much bolstering; one of the most chilling things about A Simple Plan is the unfussed way in which Hank does whatever the logic of the situation demands.

Scott Smith has hit the sort of first novelist's jackpot you wouldn't even dare dream of - huge advances all over the world, huge film rights (I foresee Harrison Ford in nerdy glasses), and according to the jacket he's gone straight from Columbia to full- time writing without any of the usual dead-end jobs in between. He's not even 30 yet - no wonder he looks pleased with himself.

By and large, A Simple Plan is gripping stuff. We watch the carnage with palsied fascination, recognising the inevitability of it all. But, like a lot of writers who have a great idea, Smith suddenly seems not to know how to finish: the payoff is disappointing.

All crime novels are, to a certain extent, morality tales, but this one is more so than most. There's no mystery - we know who's doing the killing, and we're pretty sure that some hefty twist of fate is going to whisk that dollars 4.4m out of Hank's reach. In a curious way the moral issue is not so much murder, or even theft; despite Hank's rather unconvincing conclusion that he's 'human, exactly like everyone else', most of us would stop short of mass murder in his situation. It all makes more sense when seen as a matter of truth - each violent death is a new lie, told to prevent previous lies from being found out. And we are all familiar with that situation.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
David Cameron delivers his speech on immigration at the JCB World Headquarters in Rocester, Staffordshire  

Cameron's speech was an attempt to kill immigration as an election issue

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game