Colin Harrison


(Reviewed Judi Clark FEB 27, 2000)

Afterburn is about using everything you've got to survive. Sometimes you have to kick in the afterburner even when the acceleration comes at the expense of burning all your fuel. To survive, the gain must exceed the consequences. And some people have a real knack for this, like Charlie Ravich and Christina Welles.

Thirty years earlier, Charlie Ravich's jet is hit while flying a mission over Vietnam. Emergency procedures dictate switching to the afterburner. At the risk of breaking up the plane sooner, he gains as much distance as possible in hopes of getting to friendlier ground before ejecting. Despite this, Charlie is captured, yet he manages to endure the physical and psychological punishment while interred as a P.O.W.

It's this same instinct that has helped him build a successful telecommunications manufacturing business. There are, however, some kinks in his life. His only surviving offspring, Julia, cannot conceive a child. Nature and technology have let her down. Whereas she decides that she can live childless, this is too much for Charlie. Charlie, the survivor, sees the end of the genetic line and decides it is time to kick in a plan that he's had on the back-burner: Find a woman to bear his child without his wife or daughter knowing about it.

Christina Welles suddenly finds herself sprung from the Bedford Hills maximum security women's prison where she has served four out of a seven year sentence. She's in jail because she was the only one caught while helping her boyfriend bring in a truckload full of stolen air conditioners. Everything about this early release looks suspicious and she knows that mob leader Tony Verducci is behind it. Exactly why he wants her out is the mystery. To survive, Christina hides in the middle of New York City. Her plan is to lie low and to boost just a little cash off the men she meets in the higher class bars.

Meanwhile, Christina's boyfriend, Rick has been lying low for four years, fishing in a small Long Island town. He gets a visit by the arresting detective who tells him that Christina is about to be released. Knowing better, but feeling guilty about letting her go to prison, Rick heads back to New York City to help her out.

Colin Harrison is skilled at keeping up the suspense while tying these three strands together. He constantly surprises us with new information that inevitably changes the context by which we understand the events. From this vantage point he explores the motivations of greed, death, torture, sex, aging and the overriding need to survive. I can't say that I really liked any of the characters in this novel, but then I don't think Harrison meant for us to embrace the underlying values of the novel as much as to mull the consequences. Is the goal worth the afterburn?

Ever since Manhattan Nocturne, I've been waiting for another novel by Harrison. Even though I liked Manhattan Nocturne better, Afterburn did not disappoint. Beware, however, Harrison does not shy away from details whether he is describing torture or sex (at times it may seem that sex is torture). On the other hand there are some intriguing information about money laundering and numbers. What I like about Harrison is that he knows how to combine the best features of a thriller with those of good literary novel. When this man writes, I feel like I've been there.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 76 reviews
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"Manhattan Nocturne" 

(Reviewed Judi Clark JAN 29, 1999)

Porter Wren is a columnist for a New York city newspaper.  He's been at this awhile and his stories never get cut.  Wren knows how to listen to people and can intuit the heartbeat of any story.  An then, there are people who just need to talk, especially to him.

Porter is the first to admit that maybe he should have gone straight home to Lisa and their two kids.  If he had just skipped the after work party hosted by the immense Australian publishing magnate, then it all would not have happened.  But he didn't and here he first encounters femme fatale, Caroline Crowley, the widow of the mysteriously murdered film maker, Simon Crowley.  And she wants to share her story.  Not since Sherman McCoy in Bonfire of the Vanities has there been a man in NYC so sorry that he didn't go straight home after work.

This is a classic detective novel - full of suspense, intelligently and excellently written.  Harrison uses very traditional literary techniques to keep the suspense and to craft the characters and plot. The foreboding is so loud that you can almost hear the background music warning "don't go there!" "don't do that!" or "now you've done it!"

  • Amazon readers rating: from 25 reviews


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About the Author:

Colin HarrisonColin Harrison is the deputy editor of Harper's Magazine and lives in a brownstone built in 1882in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, novelist Kathryn Harrison and their three children. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014