With Third Degree, Greg Iles has demonstrated (for those who havenít read his entire output, who probably already know this) that he is the master of the fast-paced thriller with characters youíd like to go out and shoot Ė or, at the very least, give a strong lecture to. Some would say that Iles makes all of his characters flawed, thus more interesting. While this is true to an extent, there were many times throughout this novel that I wanted to throttle one of them until they stopped acting stupid. Still, as is usual with Iles, the pace of the book kept me riveted to find out what happened despite all of this.
Laurel Shields has been having an affair for the last year, though itís recently ended. Laurel discovers on this fateful morning that sheís pregnant, and sheís not sure who the father is. Unfortunately, her husband, Dr. Warren Shields, discovers the one love letter that she kept and goes nuts. But is this betrayal the real reason for his actions? Two weeks earlier, Warren and his business partner were informed that the IRS is looking into billing irregularities at the practice, and heís been under high stress ever since. What results is a stand-off, one that Laurelís lover ends up being involved in as well. As Warren is increasingly desperate to find out the name of Laurelís lover, in a house surrounded by police, it appears that there will be no way out but violence.
The events of Third Degree all take place over the course of one day, condensing and compacting the plot until itís a pressure cooker ready to explode. Iles piles on the plot twists and explosive events until you almost canít see straight. While I admit to seeing the first twist coming a mile away, he still managed to surprise me with subsequent ones. Just when you think the novel is going to come to a climax, Iles takes a left turn and continues a bit further. If you have any interest in this genre, you will definitely have a hard time putting this book down.
Thatís generally because Isles has become an expert in the prose this thriller genre requires. Occasionally over the top, never powerful, his prose is still good enough to make the situations real to the reader. He immerses you in the setting and the charactersí emotions so that you almost feel like youíre part of the book. Sometimes he takes this a bit too far, and it becomes overly emotional and almost purple. At other times he overly describes things, but itís not enough to slow the relentless pace of the book.
Itís a good thing that Ilesí plots are so engrossing, because once again I didnít really like any of the characters. There are at least a couple that I didnít mind reading about, but too often I wanted to shout at them, and thatís not good. Iles tries really hard to flesh them out and make them three-dimensional, and he mostly succeeds in this. However, I got tired of hearing about Danny (Laurelís lover) and how he used to fly helicopters in Afghanistan. Thereís a sniper in the police cordon who recently came home from Iraq, and we get to read a lot about how he feels about sniping and killing. I also got tired of hearing about the inept SWAT team in this small Mississippi town. All of this comes to fruition through the plot and becomes important, but that doesnít mean I enjoyed reading about it beforehand.
Despite this, the standoff in the Shieldsí house is intense and Laurelís fear is palpable. Would Warren be willing to shoot her in front of their kids? Is Warren deranged, or is he just getting pushed over the edge? What will happen if Warren does discover Danny is the one whom Laurel has been sleeping with? While itís mainly the conversations between Laurel and Warren that get a bit overly emotional, it is interesting to see the back and forth between these two as Laurel tries desperately to convince Warren that she hasnít been having an affair while Warren accuses her of betraying him, even going so far as telling their children that Mommyís got a new friend who she loves more than her family.
There are a few too many coincidences for my taste, however. The spark of the entire novel is based on one, but these sorts of things happen in life and I didnít mind that so much.
Warren is desperately looking for something else when he stumbles upon the letter, though I do have to question why Laurel even kept it in the house to begin with. More troubling, however, is that the climax of the stand-off (as opposed to the climax of the novel) also happens because of a coincidence. It doesnít detract from the book much, but it did make me roll my eyes.
Third Degree was going to be the test to see if I was going to continue reading Ilesí books or not, and he definitely passes, though it was closer than I would have liked. Unlike True Evil, I actually enjoyed this novel despite its shortcomings. With plot strands that stretch all over the small town of Athens Point and even back to the childhood of the characters, all coalescing into a single explosive point, Third Degree will keep you reading - ďjust one more chapterĒ before you go to bed.