‘Collateral Damage’: another Stuart Woods page-turner

Stuart Woods has created several series characters, but my favorite is Manhattan fixer Stone Barrington, who returns for a 25th adventure in “Collateral Damage,” which G.P. Putnam’s Sons will be publishing Jan. 8.

Woods has one of the smoothest styles in contemporary crime fiction — like Lee Child, he tends to start with an ordinary, everyday sort of moment in his protagonist’s life that quickly builds into a gripping suspense plot. The new book begins with a melancholy Stone standing outside his favorite haunt, Elaine’s restaurant on the Upper Side Side, after it has been closed and stripped of its furnishings in the wake of the owner’s death.

Before you can say “page turner” Stone is sucked into an international terrorist plot. The short chapters and the relentless forward movement of the plot almost always pushes me to finish a Woods novel in one or two sittings and the new one was no exception.

Because he is so prolific, the writer has accumulated many critics — particularly in recent years on the Amazon website — who seem to be complaining more and more about Barrington’s increasingly plush Manhattan lifestyle which includes an easy access to money and sex.

The phrase “easy sex” (used in a disparaging way — lol) turns up more than a few times in the negative Amazon “reviews” of some of the recent Barrington books.

Our hero is, indeed, quite sexually active — an entirely believable situation for a rich, attractive and unattached Manhattanite. Barrington’s bedroom skills and absence of romantic strings, makes him catnip to the busy, powerful women he hangs out with (in the last couple of books Stone has spent many of his nights in bed with Holly Barker, a high ranking officer in the Central Intelligence Agency).

I think the critics miss some of the sly humor Woods has included in his sex scenes, as well as an amusing role reversal (for crime fiction) in which a man is the plaything rather than a woman.

In “Collateral Damage” Stone spends a good portion of the story stuck in the traditional “woman’s role” in a thriller — on the sidelines watching his sex partner, Holly, as she investigates the possibility that a very dangerous al Qaeda operative (another female!) is moving around New York City and London revenging the perps of the near-catastrophic terrorist plot in the previous novel, “Severe Clear.”

Stone never says “Be careful!” to Holly, but there is something very tickling about this male thriller fiction hero playing a glorified sidekick role in much of Collateral Damage.”

Joe Meyers