A Simple Plan by Scott Smith: Not so Simple

Unknown

A Simple Plan is Scott Smith’s first book. It caused a lot of fuss when it hit the book stands and after reading it, I can see why. I’ve actually reversed into this debut novel of Smith’s because I read The Ruins first and fell in love with his story telling abilities based on that novel.

The book has been called “A compulsive thriller which also happens to be a beautifully written and original work of art” Robert Harris. I believe him. It’s such an accurate description of Smith’s writing style and of the story itself that the publishers have pasted it across the front of the paperback version of the book.

If you look at the Wikipedia plot description, it is a bit too simple, straightforward and a little misleading. From Wikipedia: Three men find an airplane crashed in a forest. The pilot is dead and the cockpit contains a gym bag with $4.4 million in one-hundred-dollar notes. They decide to keep the money, dividing it equally, but their plans go wrong when others come close to discovering their secret, resulting in multiple murders.

Now that description would catch my interest, but it is not what the book is really about.

Hank Mitchell lives in a rural area of America. He is married and his wife Sarah is expecting their first baby. His brother Jacob, a behemoth of a man, is one of life’s under achievers. Jacob’s best friend is drunken wastrel Lou. Lou doesn’t like Hank and the feeling is mutual.

Hank and Jacob’s parents commit suicide when the farm that their father owned got into financial difficulties. The two brothers have little in common and don’t even like each other very much. Hank is an accountant and the only bright spark in his life is his pregnant wife.

Hank, Jacob and Lou make an uneasy trio of men thrown together by familial ties, circumstance and financial similarities. Hank, despite being the only employed member of this little group is basically easily led and taken advantage of. He is not strong enough morally or physically to make a stand for himself.

Then one snowy morning all three men are in a pickup truck when Jacob’s dog (a male named Mary Beth) jumps out of the truck to chase a fox. Both fox and dog disappear into the woods and the men go to find Mary Beth. Once in the woods they find a small crashed aircraft. They also find a dead pilot and duffel bag stuffed with money.

Hank takes control of the situation and decides that if they hold onto the money for six months it will then be safe for them to split the cash and no one will be the wiser. With explicit instructions to not tell anyone about what they’ve found, Hank becomes the “keeper” of the money.

Stress, dire financial situations, lack of secrecy and trust all begin to take their toll on the three men and as events snowball out of control, things turn murderous.

This story had me gripped from the first page. Smith paints a brilliant picture of small town life and the people who inhabit it. His painting of the three (four counting Sarah) main characters made them so real and complete I felt badly for them when things got so out of hand.

Hank was the main protagonist and it doesn’t take long to see that he really is not up to the task at hand. Sarah becomes a big player in the action by first acting as his sounding board and then later taking a more active role in events.

This tale of greed, fear and mass murder was made into a film in 1998 by Sam Raimi, starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda, if it is one-quarter as good as the book, I have to see it.

This was a brilliant book. A real 5 out of 5 stars for originality and for characters that leapt off the page at you, they seemed so real. If you don’t read any thing else this year, read this book.

While the title may be A Simple Plan, the story itself is not so simple.

Author Scott Smith.
Author Scott Smith.