Twist and Turn: A Review of David Ellis’ “Look Closer”

Author David Ellis, known for co-writing legal thrillers with James Patterson, has branched out and penned a nifty domestic thriller, “Look Closer.” Twistier than a bag of pretzels, the book follows an affluent Chicago couple whose stable existence is rocked by the discovery of a dead socialite. What follows is well-worn territory, familiar to anyone who’s read “Gone Girl” or watched any of HBO and Netflix’s recent limited series. Chapters jump from narrator to narrator, the narrative jumps before and after a central murder, there’s even a series of suspicious first-person journal entries.

Ellis, who works as a judge in the Cook County court system and made a name for himself prosecuting Rod Blagojevich, takes familiar ingredients and whips up a pleasantly frothy beach read. The author uses specific Chicago locations in the book, but chose to fictionalize key suburbs. Perhaps the author, who lives in the near western suburbs, did not want to upset his neighbors by depicting so many stabs in their backs.

In a welcome surprise, the first half of the novel features emotional beats worthy of so-called literary fiction. The characters: a professor, social worker, con artist and socialite, are drawn with enough nuance to draw the reader in as Ellis sets up the inevitable twists of the monster plot. A fussy might point out that, like many entries in this genre, the ending is weird, but that’s the price of admission. National thrillers need a fake death or three, that’s pretty much the law at this point.

In the case of “Look Closer,” the plot revolves around a possible suicide, a succession of disappointments, old grudges, a pair of vengeful yuppies, or even a side plot involving a battle for college tenure. Ellis does an admirable job of juggling the balls he sets in motion, even if this reader got giddy keeping track of it all.

The welcome moments of genuine human emotion found in the first half of the book fall by the wayside as the narrative momentum picks up and the chapters become shorter and the action more frantic. Oh, to have the time management of the villains in thrillers! In the time it takes them to frame people for murder and lead secret second lives, they could be training for a triathlon, earning a graduate degree, or learning a new language.

“To look closer”
By David Ellis
Putnam, 448 pages

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