"Takes One to Know One" by Susan Isaacs; Grove Press, 355 pages, $26.
Corie Geller has it all, it seems. At 35, she's married to a kind and crazy-handsome judge, has adopted his sweet teen daughter and lives in a tony Long Island neighborhood. She works from home, using her language skills to help publishers evaluate books written in Arabic for English translations. Sounds pretty nice.
So why is she bored out of her gourd? She claims she doesn't miss her former hard-charging career as an FBI agent in an antiterrorism unit. But when she attends the weekly lunches at a local restaurant for fellow suburban freelancers, she becomes fixated on another member of the group. Pete Delaney is a package designer, a middle-aged husband and dad, reserved but pleasant.
It's not that Corie is attracted to him (she's not), it's that something about him sets off her investigator's internal alarms. The first thing she notices is that he always chooses the same restaurant seat, one that gives him a clear view of his car, which he watches constantly. Another group member reports that she saw him working a carwash fundraiser, and, despite his usual wardrobe of dad jeans and baggy shirts, he's ripped with muscles. He takes a lot of ostensibly work-related trips, and he seems to always have a new phone.
If all that doesn't seem suspicious, you're probably not the daughter of a former soap opera star and a retired NYPD homicide detective. Corie has some of her mom's drama genes and all of her dad's investigative instincts. Something about Pete just doesn't seem right to her, and she's determined to find out what it is.
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Corie's quest is the focus of Susan Isaacs' new novel, "Takes One to Know One." Isaacs, a Brooklyn native and Long Island resident, has written 12 previous best-sellers, three of which -- "Compromising Positions," "Shining Through" and "After All These Years" -- have been made into movies.
At first, the worst thing Corie could say about Pete is that he's so relentlessly ordinary. As someone who is keeping her own former FBI self under wraps by playing ordinary, she's attuned to that. But she notices other details that seem off, and then she hears a story from another lunch pal who witnessed Pete in a bizarre fit of destructive rage.
Pretty soon she's conducting surveillance on his house (where she observes him trimming the shrubbery) and escalating to asking her ex-boyfriend, a DEA agent she still finds hot, to check out Delaney's background. She persuades her acerbic best friend Wynne, a "life designer" who has exquisite taste and isn't afraid to deploy it, to go with her to check out an incident in Galveston, Texas, that might be connected to Pete. Corie's suspicions, it turns out, are correct, and they lead her right into mortal peril and a breathless, butt-kicking confrontation.
Isaacs takes the basic thriller form and lathers it with lots of saucy humor. (If you enjoy hate-watching HGTV shows, you'll love Corie's and Wynne's critiques of other people's houses.) She's adept at sketching winning characters, like Phoebe, the gossipy eBay entrepreneur from the lunch group, and Corie's father, Dan Schottland, whose lingering grief and depression over losing his police partner in the 9/11 disaster are assuaged when Corie draws him into the hunt.
During that Texas road trip, Wynne tells Corie she knows her friend is "way understimulated. ... You need a jolt to keep going." If you could use one, too, "Takes One to Know One" delivers.