Fresh Meat: The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos

The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos
The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos
The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos is a thriller featuring three ordinary men who test the limits of their friendship when a robbery goes wrong (available September 4, 2012).

Will, Jeffrey, and Nolan are lifelong friends. They went their separate ways as adults, living their own lives while forging their own careers. They have no reason to believe anything extraordinary will befall them. Until one shocking moment changes everything….

The Mysterious Press is back from the dead, and the first debut novel from the relaunched press is a good sign of things to come.

Michael Kardos codirects the creative writing program at Mississippi State University, edits the literary journal Jabberwock Review, and several of his stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories. In other words, Kardos brings some heavy literary credentials to The Three-Day Affair. His first novel combines tension and thrills, with a welcome devotion to character development and quality writing.

Will, our narrator, is a sound engineer and musician in his late twenties. He and his wife fled to the New Jersey suburbs after a bandmate was killed in an act of random violence. This theme of life suddenly being turned upside down by violence runs throughout The Three-Day Affair. Will knows where the nearest hospitals are at all times. He’s careful to the point of paranoia.

This all comes tumbling down over the course of one weekend with his old college buddies. Once a year or so the four guys get together to golf, drink, and swap old, comforting stories they’ve all heard a thousand times.

There’s Jeffrey, a busted dotcom millionaire, whose wife is cheating on him and who seems to be losing his grip on sanity. Nolan is an ambitious state senator running a campaign for the U.S. Senate. Due to join the guys later is Evan, their lawyer friend who was lucky enough to get delayed on his way to Jersey.

On the guys’ first night out, Jeffrey asks Will to pull into a gas station. Jeffrey comes out a few minutes later with a very confused, scared teenage girl. The most Jeffrey can manage to say is, “I didn’t mean to take her.”

Will’s life is delicate, yet full of potential. He and his wife don’t have kids. They’re renting their suburban dream home. Being a sound engineer is satisfying but doesn’t pay well, and he has dreams of starting a record company. The threat of his beautiful, yet still unrealized life slipping away causes Will to hesitate. He doesn’t pull the car over. He doesn’t drive them to a police station. Instead, he takes everyone to his recording studio while they hole up so they can figure out what happened and what to do next.

The men quickly realize they should have let the girl go. But they don’t.

The kidnapping occurs a handful of pages into the novel, and readers will hardly have had any time to get to know these characters. They’re kidnappers. Why on earth should we care about them? As Nolan says, “Robbery isn’t an accident. Kidnapping isn’t an accident. Nobody in the history of the world has ever kidnapped somebody by accident.” Jeffrey’s droll response highlights the randomness of the crime: “Well I did.”

Readers who feel inclined to not cut these guys any slack might be tempted to toss the book aside in chapter 2. But Kardos keeps the pace moving so quickly—with the exception of flashbacks that are necessary for character development but will leave you aching for the main story—that it’s easy to get swept up in the fast-paced excitement and suspense. It’s called The Three-Day Affair, but the title has a double meaning and most of the book takes place over a single night.

It’s also important to know that these guys aren’t criminal masterminds. They don’t have evil intentions, and there’s surprisingly little blood in the novel (although there is a scene involving a cymbal and the side of someone’s head that sent shivers through my own ears). The novel mostly takes place in one setting, over just one weekend, and Kardos should be lauded for wringing such a tense novel out of such potentially limiting constraints.

It’s like a darker version of The Hangover. The suspense hits the reader because we know there’s only a couple ways out: they let the girl go, which means they likely get arrested, or they go to more extreme measures to silence her.

There may be a few too many “If only . . .” lamentations, and Will’s regret and sense of foreboding can come on a little too thick at times. However, Kardos writes clear, well-crafted sentences and he never lets the reader get bored.

It’s satisfying to follow Will as he moves from shock, to anger, to acceptance that there’s no good way out of this situation. The random crime he’s always feared has happened, and it’s his fault.

By the end of the novel, buried secrets start to dig their way out of the past in surprising ways. Each of the guys is keeping something from his friends. Past resentments haven’t passed, and some secrets are itching to get out. Even Marie, the kidnapped girl, isn’t quite who she claimed to be.

The question that keeps occurring to Will, and to the reader, is Why did Jeff do this? What the hell was he thinking?

The final answer proves satisfyingly complex, yet also ambiguous in a way that will please most readers.

See our full coverage of new releases with our Fresh Meat series.

Richard Z. Santos lives outside of Austin and is enrolled in the MFA program at Texas State University. Once, he worked in Washington, D.C., but now he doesn’t do much more than write and teach. He blogs at Paperclip People, and is working on his first novel—a crime thriller set in New Mexico.

Read all of Richard Z. Santos’s posts for Criminal Element.

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