No. of Recommendations: 2
The title and the plot looked intriguing: accident investigator looks into a string of suspicious accidents and suddenly his life is threatened.

But when I started reading it, OMG, was it bad. But rather than re-inventing the wheel, let me post some excerpts from Amazon reviews which describe it far better than I could:

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Totally lacking in depth or originality. It is less a novel than a collection of all those e-mails that have been circulated to you countless times about Insurance claims ("the tree jumped out in front of the car") and Darwin Award stories (stories of people whose stupidity leads to a horrible, if amusing, death). It appears to be a mere accumulation of 'facts' picked up from bar-room conversations and e-mails.

The characterization is lazy and lacking in depth. The hero of the story (and he is a real 'hero') was a Vietnam vet (he doesn't like to talk about it), his wife and child were killed in a plane crash and he is emotionally scarred by this (he doesn't like to talk about it), he drives fact cars, has a PHD, worked for NASA, has a vast collection of books, knows all about guns and ballistics (although he doesn't 'like' guns), and is an expert in crash reconstruction, which he can whack together into a computer simulation at the push of a button. Wow! This guy is something else!

The plot is even cornier. When an attempt is made on Dar's life by the Russian Mafia, he is assigned a tough ex-FBI agent to act as bodyguard - female, of course . . .


Our Hero, Darwin "Dar" Minor, is as close to superman as one can be without having super powers. He's an ex-Marine sniper who's all but perfect with weapons. He's a Vietnam War hero. He's rich, somehow.

He owns a cabin in the woods with all the modern conveniences, including a trap door leading to a secret, bomb-proof storage room that also has its own air supply thanks to a shaft from a nearby gold mine. (No spoilers there; Dar explains that when he gives us a tour.)

He's an expert in literature, the arts, and even liquor. He's an expert pilot, an expert driver, an expert accident reconstructor, and has a Ph.D in physics. He drives the perfect car (which, we learn in the acknowledgements, is what Mr. Simmons drives).

Oh, and he also has a near-photographic memory. At one point, recalling a news story of a murder from several years back, he says, "I remember reading that it was a double tap to the head from a distance of six hundred meters. A newspaper report said that the bullets recovered were 7.62-by-fifty-four-millimeter-rimmed."

Getting beyond the silly protagonist, there's plenty more to be annoyed with. Dar's main job is as an insurance investigator, and the novel is peppered with investigations put there, seemingly, strictly to be funny, as they do little to advance the plot.

Problem: All these investigations are taken straight from a list of cliché urban legends, starting with "man attaches rockets to car and ends up embedded in cliff"* ([...]) and including "drunk man shoots self when his phone rings in the middle of the night and he 'answers' his gun."

Simmons didn't even bother to get creative with his insurance-investigator banter. When a few of them are sitting around talking about funny past cases, the ones they claimed to have worked on were taken verbatim from an age-old e-mailed joke list ([...]

It starts out with the hero "Darwin Minor", crack insurance fraud investigator, looking into an "accident" that turns out to be the result of some idiot who strapped a couple of solid fuel rockets to his 1982 El Camino out in the middle of a long stretch of road, lit the match and flew several thousand feet into the side of a mountain (get real)*. How did "Dar" figure this out when there was nothing left but a hole in the ground and an El Camino door handle? "A simple matter of friction coefficient" and some asphalt that had melted and resolidified. The weird part is that you don't know if the author is pulling your leg or not. I mean, the book cover says it's a "Novel of Suspense" but I'm thinking comedy at this point. It turns out the cover and I were both wrong. The only suspense in the book is around the question "How bad can the humor get?"

You know the list of old insurance jokes that keeps recycling every few years? There's half a chapter devoted to retelling every one of them and another WHOLE chapter whose only purpose is to tell an old courtroom joke. It felt like Simmons just decided to tell some jokes in the middle of a book. Maybe he was hoping he could distract the reader from the fact that he had no story to tell.

In another chapter we get a lesson in physics where several pages are filled with mathematical equations (square root signs, subscripts, really cool math stuff), drag coefficients of asphalt versus concrete, bumper heights versus center of gravity for a man. All of these senseless values are calculated and recalculated until we get some van's speed at the point of impact down to the nearest tenth of a mph.** You have to go back several pages and reread to remember why you were put through this mind numbing exercise. This is about halfway through the book and you're still left wondering when there's going to be a story.
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Oh, but there IS a story. A stupid story, to be sure, but there's a story. As an accident investigator, his job is to spot fraud, which often happens when someone pulls in front of another car on the freeway and then stomps on the brakes, forcing a rear-end collision. Then an ambulance-chasing lawyer, who is in on the scheme, collects a bunch of cash and splits it with the driver. But that's just small potatoes: it turns out there is an international conspiracy involving former KGB agents recruiting 3rd world citizens to organize a massive accident fraud crime ring and corner the market on ambulance-chasing! No, really. And they're eliminating the small-fry competition by having them killed in subtle ways so that you'd never suspect foul play, such as shoving a crooked lawyer into a hydraulic scissors lift which collapses on him and chops . . . well, you get the picture.

Other things we learn along the way: Saturns are for people who are afraid of buying cars, such as college professors, tree-huggers, and liberal Democrats. Also? Volvos are for people who hate cars altogether, and want to make it clear that they'd rather be riding a bike. Also? Men communicate on a non-verbal level that women can never understand.

I bailed at the halfway point.

*And to make matters worse, one of the earliest episodes of Mythbusters showed that it's impossible for a car to become airborne by strapping military rockets to it.

** The author, while trying to make the reader feel inferior by throwing some high school level equations at us, makes a rookie error himself: he claims that the "pull of gravity" is 32 feet per second, when in fact the acceleration of gravity is 32 feet per second per second, otherwise phrased as 32 feet per second squared.
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