Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Kellerman's 'Potboiler' Sets Thrillers on Their Ears

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Kellerman's 'Potboiler' Sets Thrillers on Their Ears

Article excerpt

"POTBOILER"

By Jesse Kellerman

Putnam ($25.95)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Jesse Kellerman's "Potboiler" begins as a tough, funny satire of the titled genre, does a brilliant conceptual backflip at the one-third mark, then begins a slow motion de-evolution because of the impossibility of having it both ways -- making fun of a genre while coexisting with said genre.

Mostly, Mr. Kellerman wants to have fun with thrillers -- their ridiculous plots, their often flamboyantly bad writing.

That, at least, is the considered opinion of Arthur Pfefferkorn, a middle-age adjunct professor who wrote one novel and stalled, while his college pal Bill de Vallee has made a fortune with more than 30 books about Dick Stapp, a physically invincible figure who constantly finds himself amid conspiracies of dizzying complexity.

Pfefferkorn has read a couple of the Stapp books, but not many because they're full of bad writing. Stapp never "says" anything. Rather, he avows, exclaims, interjects, pipes up or squawks. And Stapp performs every physical action "in one fluid motion."

They're vast compendiums of linguistic cliches, the public laps them up, Stephen King and Lee Child blurb them enthusiastically, if nonsensically, and through it all Arthur Pfefferkorn dies a little. De Vallee has it made, right up until he dies in a boating accident.

Pfefferkorn goes to the memorial service, where he strikes sparks with the grieving widow, whom he had lusted after in college. Before you know it, she's taking time out from her grieving by putting Pfefferkorn through the bedroom paces. And then Pfefferkorn steals the last de Vallee manuscript, changes the names, issues it under his own name, and becomes a best-selling author himself.

It is at this point that Mr. Kellerman dispenses his best comic idea. It turns out that de Vallee was actually working for the government, and that the bad writing, the catchphrases, the "in one fluid motion" are actually encrypted directives ordering clandestine activities for operatives in deep cover in obscure countries in Europe. …

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