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The Request


The Request

I was enchanted by David Bell’s previous novel, THE LAYOVER, which turned on a chance meeting in an airport that led to something else. Over the course of several books, Bell has demonstrated a particular talent for turning an otherwise simple or momentary event into a catalyst that changes everything for the individuals involved. His latest work, THE REQUEST, continues his string of terrific works with what may be his best to date.

It is very easy to identify with Ryan Francis, the book’s protagonist and narrator, on several levels. He has his own business and has started another project. It keeps him busy and puts bread on the table for himself, his wife Amanda, and their infant son Henry. What we quickly learn, though, is that Ryan is being blackmailed for his part in a social group’s hazing incident that took place when he was in college.

"THE REQUEST is the perfect summer read, a slice of domestic suspense that keeps readers guessing as to what will happen next and wondering who will do what to whom."

Ryan has always known that Blake Norton, his best friend from college, got him out of significant trouble. Blake is seen as a screwup, and Amanda can’t stand the sight of him. Ryan has enough on his plate, what with work, family and deflecting the blackmailer. But when Blake comes to him one evening after an absence of several months, Ryan can’t turn him away.

Blake has a request. He is about to get married to his on-again, off-again girlfriend. When they were off-again, he became involved with a woman named Jen, who has some of his letters to her. He needs them back before the wedding, as Jen is feeling a bit jilted. So he wants Ryan to break into her house while she is gone and retrieve the letters.

Ryan is extremely reluctant to do this, but Blake is insistent and pathetic. More importantly, Blake has done Ryan a number of solids over the years, so he feels he can’t say no. Ryan does gain entry into the house with a couple of minor hiccups, but the letters are gone. What is not gone is Jen. She’s dead in her bedroom. Ryan also discovers that Jen is Jennifer Bates, who at one point was a prospective client of his several months before and made it clear that she was very interested in him in a non-business sense.

Things begin to spiral out of control from there. A homicide detective keeps turning up to ask Ryan and Amanda uncomfortable questions. Jen’s new boyfriend is coming around, wondering how much Ryan knows about her death. Another man keeps showing up at Ryan and Amanda’s house, acting vaguely threatening. And why is Ryan continuing to get Facebook “friend” requests from Jennifer, who is no longer alive to send them? Also, Ryan has to deal with that blackmailer. He doesn’t have just several plates spinning --- he’s juggling flaming chainsaws. Someone, maybe several someones, can and will get burned.

THE REQUEST is the perfect summer read, a slice of domestic suspense that keeps readers guessing as to what will happen next and wondering who will do what to whom. It also is a subtle --- or maybe not-so-subtle --- critique of social websites and apps that we suddenly and seemingly cannot live without but should.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 2, 2020

The Request
by David Bell