Chaos Theory

Gary Krist, Author Random House (NY) $24 (368p) ISBN 978-0-375-50080-0
Spinning a plausible situation into an extraordinary story while training a marksman's eye on character, Krist has conceived a sleek and thoughtful thriller set on the streets of Washington, D.C. Two affluent high school classmates, Jason Rourke and Dennis Monroe, leave a boring party and drive to the rough end of town to buy a couple of joints. They find a street-corner dealer, but he mistakes them for other dealers and pulls a gun. The boys manage to speed off in their car, but in the process, they accidentally drag the dealer along, eventually leaving his mangled body in the street. The next morning, Rourke and Monroe learn that the dealer is dead, with two bullet wounds in his body; worse still, the papers say he was an undercover cop. Or was he? The teens are horrified to discover that this event has put them smack in the center of a sinister conspiracy, in which a criminal ring helps important people who want to escape their troubles to disappear. For a hefty fee, the crooks will stage the death, substituting the body of a physically similar homeless person for the person who wants to be declared dead. Krist swiftly twists his white-knuckle story into a frenzied manhunt as Rourke and Monroe flee the conspirators, who will kill the boys for what they know. The boys' parents, the FBI and one of their teachers, meanwhile, are desperately trying to track them down before the bad guys do. Along the way, Krist (Bad Chemistry; Bone by Bone) shows his flair for portraying characters under extreme emotional pressure. Among his best here is Rourke's father, Graham, a man wracked by guilt about his wife's suicide and about his crumbling relationship with his son. Rourke and Monroe are sharply drawn na fs, who act tough but are really smart, resourceful middle-class kids who care about their friendship and their college futures. Their adolescent na vet provides a clean contrast with the complicated outlook of adults in the story, ultimately commenting on the resiliency of youth. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/1999
Release date: 12/01/1999
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