“The Bet” by David R. Brown has a strong premise, and the idea itself compelled me to download the book and get started right away with it.
The skinny: A man named Richard Kepperman gets approached by a stranger with an interesting offer: 10 million dollars if Richard can go on the run for 30 days without getting caught by the man (Simmons) and his team of high-tech hunters.
Okay, so the concept is pretty darn cool, especially since Richard is married, has a daughter and has been struggling to pay the bills without a reliable job after he blew the whistle on his own accounting firm a few years prior.
So the concept of a man hunting man isn’t terribly original, since it pulls its plot origin from “The Most Dangerous Game,” published in 1924, but it still holds the thrill it needs to pull in readers.
However, the problems with “The Bet” are evident from the start…
First off, if you’re looking for a novel with quality literary prose and originality, this is not your book. The prose is dry and unimaginative. On top of that, just about every paragraph starts with a prepositional sentence.
“Dutifully taking his seat, he picked up a piece of dry toast”
“Hurriedly washing the rest of his breakfast down with lukewarm coffee, he went back upstairs to pack.”
It’s like the characters are constantly doing one thing while doing something else. Always.
In fact, the prepositional sentence structure goes on throughout the entire book, and is so repetitive that it forced my reading to slow down. I couldn’t get past it. It poked me in the eye every time a prepositional sentence popped up.
While reading the first fifty pages, I almost gave up on the novel. We find out about Richard’s past and his current predicament, but there’s nothing here that’s very original. He’s just a regular guy without an accent of individuality. Nothing really stood out about Richard worth remembering, and the details of his past were so mundane that he could have been anybody. For example, Richard was a college quarterback and at some point he held a job flipping burgers.
When we finally meet the villain behind the bet, Mr. Simmons, he is so infatuated with himself that I almost pictured him walking around in a bathrobe holding a glass of scotch, telling the world how wonderful he is.
Simmons goes on for pages telling Richard how he’s mastered every sport he ever played and how he’s evolved to the thrill of hunting man.
So many times, when he talked, I wanted to shout at this guy to shut up and get to the point.
But at least, finally, after 50 pages, we get to the bet in question.
The problem, however, is that as the book develops we discover that the bet is fixed from the beginning (Richard is implanted with a GPS device, and Simmons has no intention on letting Richard make it out alive). Not only that, but Simmons does almost none of the hunting himself. He has a team of goons doing most of the chasing, so you never get that mano-a-mano struggle between men. Mr. Simmons is usually cooped up in a headquarters location stacked with computer programmers where the hired help do all the work.
Then we also discover that the whole bet is just a ruse to settle the score on an old family grudge involving Richard’s grandfather and some crazy old man named Philip Krantz.
As the chase goes on, the initial bet becomes an afterthought. It was all just for show. This deflated my desire to keep reading, and the plot that replaces it is okay, but it’s not filled with many characters I really care about.
The only character who really puts the story in motion and gives Richard a fighting chance is his old college friend, Tony Delphonzo, who is the son of a powerful mobster and helps Richard overcome the impossible odds stacked against him. Tony is actually a really likeable character, and probably the only one I cared for, only to find out that he…
Well, I won’t ruin the ending for you.
Speaking of endings: It’s all thrown together. Richard saves his family (which is by this point held hostage by heavily-armed men) in a matter of a few pages. On top of that, we discover some pretty twisted details about Philip Krantz (the crazy old man behind the bet), which would have been interesting if they had been developed throughout the novel instead of thrown at the reader in the last 20 pages of the book.
The novel was actually really well paced until that point. It was one thing that it had going for it, but then it just becomes rushed. Richard makes a miraculous save and escapes with his family with millions of dollars, but it’s all highly implausible.
Not that great. Prose lacks creativity, plot lacks believability and characters lack redeemable likeability.