Summer reading: novels

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The Switch
Joseph Finder ’80
Dutton, $28
Reviewed by Alex Beam ’75

Alex Beam ’75 is a columnist for the Boston Globe and author of The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship.

There are hallmarks of a successful Joseph Finder novel, and you will find them all in The Switch, Finder’s 14th action thriller. Finder’s best work sets a Middle American Everyman—often an early-30s, well-educated corporate male—adrift in a perilous sea of business spies, government agents, and shadowy foreign interests. Finder likes to stir technology into his thriller recipe, and The Switch does not disappoint on this front. Protagonist Michael Tanner, an artisanal coffee entrepreneur from Boston, gets a crash course in government surveillance and how to avoid it. “VPN [Virtual Private Network] and PGP [Pretty Good Privacy] and Tor-enabled VOIP [Voice Over Internet Protocol]”—give me more! There is more: the secure website 

They are called page-turners for a reason. Finder’s pace is staccato from start to end. There are moments when you really can’t put the book down; what happened to that missing Apple laptop? Why isn’t it in the locker? Other touches make The Switch enjoyable on all fronts: a powerful female senator whose staff reads her jewel-tone suits like mood rings. Plenty of coffee lore for the Stumptown set. And, inevitably, a Russian agent with mixed motives, who sidles up to Tanner in a diner. (Finder knows from murky Russians. He has a master’s from Harvard’s Russian Research Center and wrote a nonfiction book, Red Carpet: The Connection between the Kremlin and America’s Most Powerful Businessmen, on the shadowy world of American-Soviet Cold War commerce.)

The silver-tonged Russian agent offers Tanner the same praise we the readers might: “You have done well in the last few days. . . . Clearly, some combination of resourcefulness and luck has served you well. But how long do you think you can keep going? Even a hot hand cools eventually.” Or does it?

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