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

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special  

General election 2015: Not voting makes you responsible for the worst that follows

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk