'Day After Tomorrow' is one of the best

April 18, 1994|By Robert Ward | Robert Ward,Los Angeles Times

When I was asked to review this novel I was wary, because I doubted that the book itself could live up to the fantastic hype surrounding it.

If the name Allan Folsom doesn't ring a bell, his story probably will. About a year and half ago, there were a lot of items in every paper about Mr. Folsom, a failed screenwriter who had toiled in Hollywood for years and years with only a couple of episodes of some long-forgotten TV show to his credit.

After 10 years of what must have been backbreaking work, he sent his big, ambitious thriller to a literary agent, Aaron Priest in New York. Mr. Priest read it, went into shock, sent it out to several publishers with a 48-hour deadline and, boom, Allan Folsom no longer had to worry if the dog in his spec script was likable enough. He had made a $2 million book sale to Little, Brown. He also sold the world rights for tons more money and got another cool mil from producer Richard Zanuck for the movie rights.

Given a story of such high drama, I worried that my own reaction to the novel might be jaded. It would take something twisted, wild, ambitious, unputdownable and outrageous simply to compete with the hype.

Happily, I'm here to report that "The Day After Tomorrow" is all these things and more.

Let me add one caveat: If you are the kind of thriller reader who exclusively digs, say, the more cerebral, subtle, arcane kind of thriller writer, such as John le Carre, don't shell out the 25 bucks.

But if you flipped for over-the-top, wildly imaginative, hideously violent, weirdo thrillers like "The First Deadly Sin," "Perfume" (although it's not quite in that class in craft), "Shibumi," "The Exorcist," "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Shining" or "The Day of the Jackal," then this is just the book for you.

If these titles are confusing, I picked them for two reasons: (1) They are the most non-stoppable thrillers I've ever read, and "The Day After Tomorrow" is every bit their equal, and (2) some of them are political thrillers and some of them are horror tales, and "The Day After Tomorrow" is both.

Indeed, that's Mr. Folsom's particular brilliance. He has wed the novel of revenge with the political thriller and grafted the whole thing seamlessly onto a brilliant updating of the Frankenstein story. The love story in the book works, too.

The action begins at once. While having a love affair in Paris, an American orthopedic surgeon named Paul Osborn accidentally runs into the man who killed his father in Boston when Paul was 10 years old. Enraged and in shock, Osborn attacks the man in a Paris bistro. Waiters pull Osborn off, the man runs and Osborn chases him, only to lose him in the Metro.

But Osborn has been haunted for too long to give up. He hires a private detective to track the killer down. His desire is to kill the man, but before doing so to ask him why he committed the murder. The private detective finds the man easily, but nothing else is easy after that.

Soon Osborn is thrown into a whirlpool of events, both historical and surgical (the absolute creepiest part of the book), which far outweigh his own personal revenge. Thrown into this maelstrom with Osborn is an L.A. cop named William McVey, and a beautiful and resourceful young woman named Vera Monneray.

Their opponents are every bit their match; they include the assassin Henri Janarack, another assassin known as the Tall Man, the trained terrorist Von Holden and the true king of the creeps, Erwin Scholl.

Before it's over, Osborn meets terror that is both human and high-tech. There's not a dull moment.

Indeed, that's one problem with the book. Not that there should be dull spots, but by the second half of the book the action is so furious and the bodies pile up so high that we are pretty much drenched in blood.

If there's evidence that Mr. Folsom is a first-time novelist, this is it. He might have trusted in his characters more and left a few of the train wrecks and charred bodies to Robert Ludlum. Indeed, I have no doubt that some readers will be seriously put off by the body count and some of the more graphic descriptions of wounds, decapitation, etc.

There's one more serious problem. Mr. Folsom tries to save the last thrill for the last sentence, but I figured that one out about halfway through the book. I think you will, too.

Still, the suspense is almost always unbearable, the story hugely entertaining.

I started "The Day After Tomorrow" at 2 in the afternoon, and finished reading it, my eyes bleeding, at 3 a.m. "The Day After Tomorrow" isn't "Middlemarch," folks, but I defy you to put it down.

Title: "The Day After Tomorrow"

Author: Allan Folsom

Publisher: Little, Brown

0$ Length, price: 608 pages, $24.95

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