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Literature / The October List

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"You wait, desperately, for news of your daughter. At last, the door opens. But it's not the negotiators, or the FBI. It's your daughter's kidnapper. And he has a gun...
Two days ago, life was normal.
How did it end like this?"

''The October list is a thriller novel by Jeffrey Deaver, published in 2013, and told entirely in reverse, the book beginning with the conclusion then working its way back to the beginning, telling a story that occurs over a weekend, from Sunday evening to Friday morning, backwards and all.

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It's the toughest weekend in her life for Gabriela McKenzie. The fact that her boss Charles Prescott has emptied the company accounts and skipped town so she's out of a job, is the least of her concern. His skipping of town angered (at least) one of his clients, who does not take this lightly, and kidnaps Gabriela's daughter. His demands? Four hundred grand in cash as reimbursement of an advance investment fee he paid Prescott only for the man to run off with it, and the eponymous "October List", a list of a few dozen of powerful and nasty individuals who Prescott was involved with and relating to a massive shady operation which would, if the details come to light, inconvenience anybody on it, while serving as valuable blackmail material. And naturally, no cops, or the deal is off and the daughter dies.

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And Gabriela is expected to accomplish this in only a day, before the start of the next business week. Fortunately for her, she has made the acquaintance of Daniel Reardon, a wealthy and successful investor who has taken a liking to her, and is happy to use his wealth and connections to help her resolve the crisis. But between the tight deadline, the sadistic nature of her daughter's kidnapper, and the police attention hindering all their efforts, she and Daniel are on a race against the clock, with a six-years-old child's life on the line.

The book begins with chapter thirty-six, with a battered and desperate Gabriela in a safehouse apartment with one of Daniel's associates guarding her, while Daniel and another associate of his went off to make the exchange and secure her daughter in her place. Then the kidnapper busts into the apartment, wearing a smug grin and brandishing a gun...and then the book tells us what happened before.

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In a backwards-told story where nothing is as it seems, any plot detail can be a spoiler. Many unmarked spoilers follow. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.


The October List contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: How things played in the NYPD and whether or not Gabriela got in trouble over causing no small amount of chaos with her plan is left unexplained and it's up to the reader to decide. It can be assumed that Karpankov was satisfied with the outcome, though.
  • Ax-Crazy: Joseph Astor. Subverted in that he's just playing the part of the kidnapper while being in on the plan, and decided to do it with the Joker flair.
  • Back to Front: We start at the end and finish at the beginning.
  • Batman Gambit: Much of Gabriela's plan depends on her ability to predict how people will act, and she passes with flying colors.
  • Big Bad: At first it seems like it's Joseph, then it seems like it's Karpankov, but in the end, it's Daniel.
  • Blatant Lies: Gabriela insists on no surveillance allegedly to make sure Daniel won't figure out he's being set up, but in truth she doesn't want to have her mob connections exposed. Captain Barkley orders Kepler and Surani to keep eyes on her anyway, but she planned for that, too.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Gabriela plans for every possible eventuality, down to bringing samples of all possible drinks that can be served in the bar where she's to make contact with Daniel, just so she can spill the right one on her blouse and pretend he did it by accident.
  • Da Chief: Captain Barkley
  • Disproportionate Retribution: So this guy you're semi-dating is stalking you and creeping you out. How do you deal with this situation? Why, call in a favor with your mob connections, have the guy killed, and pin his death on the guy your connection asked you to kill, of course!
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Played straight when Karpankov stepped in to help Gabriela's mother when her husband was killed on duty, and initially refused to work with Gabriela because he did not want to endanger her promising career. Played with when Gabriela has Joseph do a few things that are horrible even by Daniel's standards - that was just an act, of course, but it worked.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Improvised, Gabriela, knowing she's being watched and her apartment bugged, pretends to make out with Daniel, closes the curtains, turns on the TV and leaves it on an 18+ channel for the police to hear, while she and Daniel sneak out.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Daniel. His helpful and pleasant demeanor aside, he's depraved, enjoys violence (including the sexual kind), and was going to sell Gabriela out, probably before indulging in some such violence with her.
  • Fingore: When Gabriela "misses" her first deadline, Joseph directs her to a dumpster in which she finds a bloodied finger belonging to her daughter. That, too, is an act, but it still works to visibly perturb even Daniel.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Gabriela, during a struggle with officer Chapman as she goes for his gun. Subverted in that the scene was staged, officer Chapman doesn't exist, and even a phony press release about the shooting was prepared in advance.
  • Invented Individual: Neither Charles Prescott (Gabriela's boss) nor Sarah McKenzie (her daughter) actually exist, both have been fabricated by Gabriela for the purposes of her plan. Fred Stanford Chapman (a cop Gabriela shot while on the run) doesn't exist either, but they had to have an officer fill the role.
  • MacGuffin: The October List. Gabriela herself refers to it as such and points out it doesn't even matter what's allegedly on it, as long as it seems like something important and valuable to Daniel. She decides it's an alleged list of criminal kingpins who conspired with Prescott to take down the New York Stock Exchange.
  • MacGuffin Title: Ditto.
  • The Mafiya: Peter Karpankov is the local mobster whose request to take Daniel Reardon out kickstarts the plot.
  • Magnificent Bitch: Gabriela. Gabriela McNamara. Detective Gabriela McNamara. Detective Gabriela McNamara who just so happens to also be moonlighting for a Russian mobster. The entire plot is her doing, and the only ones who don't get played are herself, Karpankov, and Joseph. It should come as no surprise that she doesn't actually have a daughter at all.
  • Method Acting: Gabriela's modus operandi when working undercover.
  • The Nicknamer: Gabriela refers to her late father as "The Professor" and to her stalker-slash-boyfriend as "The Complication".
  • Stalker with a Crush: Frank Walsh. While Gabriela plays along with his advances, she knows he's stalking her and creeped out by him and decides to make him "collateral damage" in her plan and pin it on Daniel.
  • Those Two Guys: Detectives Kepler and Surani, when they're not inconveniencing Gabriela and Daniel, keep stabbing jokes at each other. They're also lovers.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played with. While the plan is not unspoken, and while it is explained in advance, before it's executed, we don't hear about it until the very end.
  • Villain Protagonist: Yes, Gabriela is a NYPD detective, she sets up a sting operation to nab a particularly nasty piece of work and his associates, but her true motive is having them killed off at the request of her mob boss, and she casually has her stalker-y boyfriend murdered along the way.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Gabriela uses this one a lot. She has her colleague Elena Rodriguez pretend she got hit by a car to draw an officer from his guard spot, then later on she fakes "coughing up blood thanks to a pierced lung" to deceive Daniel, and there's the entire story with her kidnapped daughter. Downplayed when she spills a drink on her blouse so she can make contact with Daniel, insisting that he did so inadvertently.
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