Steve's Reviews > A Simple Plan

A Simple Plan by Scott B. Smith
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's review
Sep 28, 2008

it was amazing
Recommended for: everyone
Read in August, 1997

** spoiler alert ** I heard a story once about a Holocaust survivor who attended the trial at Nuremburg of the Nazi who commanded the camp in which he was a prisoner. When the defendant was brought in, the Jewish man became hysterical and had to be dragged out of the courtroom. People assumed that seeing the Nazi's face again had simply brought back memories too horrific for the man to bear. He later explained that he'd lost his composure because he saw, for the first time, that this Nazi was not some fire-breathing monster, but just a man, like anyone else. Without the SS uniform, his humanity was laid bare. The Nazi could've been him; the Nazi could've been anyone.

This incident illustrates why Scott Smith's novel "A Simple Plan" is unquestionably the scariest book I've ever read. By far more frightening than anything written by Stephen King, Dean Koontz or even Thomas Harris, "A Simple Plan" touches on an uncomfortable but real truth in life: we're all basically bad, posessing an almost infinite capacity for evil. All we need to find out how bad we can be is the right motivation: anger, lust, greed, jealousy, etc.

For Hank, the novel's main protagonist, the motivation is greed, then fear. Hank is a midwestern accountant with a wife and a baby on the way, a real swell fella, anyone would agree. One Winter day, Hank takes a ride with his no-account brother, Jacob, and Jacob's pal, Lou. An accident sends the three trudging off into the woods, where they happen upon a small airplane that has crashed and been covered over with snow. Inside, they find a dead pilot and a gym bag, which happens to contain around $4 million. The men figure the money is from a drug deal or a robbery. Hank, the upstanding citizen of the group, insists on calling the authorities immediately. Jacob and Lou, however, want to hang onto the cash. Eventually, Hank agrees, but on one condition: they sit on the money for six months - if nothing is heard of it by Summer, they'll split the loot and go their separate ways. It seems painfully simple, but Hank doesn't take into account his brother's impulsive stupidity, or Lou's desperate need to have his share RIGHT NOW. The failings of his partners in crime, as well as his own fear of being caught, send Hank into a downward spiral as the situation gets bad, then worse, then really super-deluxe worse. Toward the end, when Hank is driven to extremes by his own wife's carelessness, the money becomes almost irrelevant.

In a real stroke of genius, Smith tells the entire story from Hank's point of view, giving the reader unencumbered access to Hank's tortured psyche. You find yourself almost relating and understanding when Hank tells himself that the theft is justifiable, then when he graduates to blackmail and murder.

A movie version of this story was made in 1998; it's absorbing, suspenseful and at times unforgettable. All the same, it's inferior to the novel, particularly in the second half. The ending in the film, while tragic and horrifying in its own right, doesn't even come close to the ending in the book, which may stay with me for the rest of my life.

I found "A Simple Plan" at the discount table at the mall in 1995. The dust jacket preview seemed vaguely interesting, so I plucked down my $3.99 and took it home, expecting to read it over the Summer. I finished it two days later, at about 3:00 in the morning. It's that engrossing, and thought-provoking. At one point, Hank's wife, who turns out to be more ruthless than anyone else, says to him: "No one would ever think you'd be capable of doing what you've done." That brilliant line is the entire book in a nutshell.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Barbara Excellent review! I totally agree about it being one of the scariest books I've read. The suspense level was highly maintained throughout the book.
Your comparison of the evil that the Nazis perpetuated to average people, while incomprehensible to everyone, is demonstrated frequently in our daily newspapers. Yes, Scott Smith has written a more plausible story than Koontz or King.

message 2: by Christian (new) - added it

Christian Wish you had added a spoiler alert to your review.

message 3: by Linda (new) - added it

Linda Lipko Great review! Thanks. I've added this to my to be read pile.

Licha Good review. Makes me want to read this.

message 5: by Steve (new)

Steve Whitaker Great review of a compelling book!

message 6: by Leslie (new) - added it

Leslie This is an amazing review.

message 7: by Hallie (new) - added it

Hallie Huffman I knew I wanted to read this book based on YOUR review and I only read up to "...the right motivation..."!

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