March 01, 2008

Review of The Switch

Sandra Brown's The Switch is notable for being one of the few thrillers I've read with a Native American theme. I'm not talking about genre fiction such as Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries or Thomas Perry's Jane Whitefield novels. I'm talking about mainstream thrillers that aren't built around a Native protagonist In other words, books in which the author normally doesn't write about Natives but adds a Native theme for color.

Here's The Switch's plot from Publishers Weekly via some 60 novels, including 40-plus bestsellers already to her credit, it seems a sure bet that this new romantic thriller will not blemish Brown's phenomenal track record. On a whim, the same day she is artificially inseminated at a Dallas fertility clinic, Gillian Lloyd switches places with her identical twin sister, Melina, a professional celebrity escort assigned to chauffeur astronaut Col. Christopher Hart (or "Chief," as he is called by his NASA cohorts because his mother was a Native American). It's lust at first sight. Swept away by Chief, Gillian is caught up in a marathon frenzy of lovemaking in his hotel room. Slipping out in the wee hours of the night, she is found brutally butchered in her own bed the next morning. From an obscene blood-smeared scrawl on the bedroom wall, her sister realizes that the killing was related to Gillian's love tryst with the astronaut. Hours later, the killer, an employee at the fertility clinic, commits suicide. The resulting investigation connects him to Brother Gabriel, the charismatic, egomaniacal leader of a powerful TV religious cult who is mysteriously linked in turn to artificial insemination clinics nationwide. Determined to avenge Gillian's murder, Melina and Chief become the targets of professional assassins masquerading as FBI agents. Potential witnesses are murdered as the trail eventually leads the pair (now fighting to keep their hands off each other) cross-country to Brother Gabriel's mountain stronghold in the remote reaches of New Mexico. Displaying her talents for fast pacing and tricky plotting, Brown delivers one of her patented twists in the denouement, setting the scene for a breathy, rose-colored climax.Comment:  A quick look at the book's Native aspects:

The good

Astronaut Christopher Hart (Comanche) resembles John Herrington: a no-nonsense, right-stuff kind of hero who's out of touch with his Native roots. He's believably torn over his internal conflict: whether to help his people or help himself.

The bad

Dexter Longtree (Apache), who wants Hart to join his advocacy group, is described as a stereotype: a profile as sharp a hatchet, as stone-faced as a mountain, etc. He utters pseudo-mystical remarks about how he knows Hart will seek him eventually.

The ugly

Not only does Hart go by the stereotypical nickname "Chief," but everyone, including the media, calls him "Chief" without question. No one notes that many Indians would consider this condescending and offensive.


As a thriller, The Switch was good but not great. The biggest problem was that every fourth or fifth line was a clunker--awkwardly written and revealing too much or not enough about the characters. Every time Hart and Lloyd tried to explain why they weren't going to the police or FBI for help, for instance, it fell flat.

Rob's rating:  7.5 of 10.

For more on Native-themed novels, see The Best Indian Books.

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