The late and sorely missed Chad Oliver liked to espouse the following approach to good storytelling: "Kill the sheriff on page one." In other words, just get going on that doggone story, Hoss. Chester Aaron seems to share this view, if this young-adult adventure novel is any indication. For within the first eight pages of Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Erin and Sean Fitzgerald — adolescent twins gifted with profound psychic abilities including telepathy, telekinesis, and clairvoyance — lose their parents in a terrifying incident in which their private plane is shot out of the sky, and find themselves on the run from menacing gunmen and foreign agents. It's all very exciting, and literally an explosive opening to a novel that I was initially somewhat leery of reading, worried it may be just a harmless little piece of tweener fluff.
But what is even more impressive is what comes next, as Aaron effortlessly works in intelligent character development and backstory at the same time the main tale is unfolding, the hallmark of really good, efficient professional storytelling. While Stephen King will put his stories on hold while languidly giving readers dozens if not hundreds of pages of meticulously detailed and finely crafted character development, Chester Aaron accomplishes just as much in fewer words while keeping his plot moving ahead like a freight train. Good job.
Erin and Sean's parents have prepared a speech on ESP, which they were en route to Berkeley to deliver to a symposium when their plane was shot down. Now the twins — who are already known to governments around the world, particularly in the East, for their talents — have the speech, and know they must somehow get to California to deliver it, in spite of the fact they are on their own, penniless, and being shadowed by men who aren't at all shy about shooting at them.
For the most part, this novel is simply formula genre storytelling, which is not surprising considering Aaron's intended young audience. Erin and Sean are pursued to California by shady Russian agents (this was an 80's novel, remember), always managing to escape a horrible ambush by a hair's breadth. Yet, because the book is geared to young readers the violence is never so intense as it would be in a straightforward thriller. And you would think that if the Soviets were really as aware of the extent of the twins' abilities as we are led to understand, then they might realize that any attempts to plant bombs, take the kids out in drive-bys, what have you, would be figured out in advance, forcing them to try something a little more unpredictable and surprising. So, occasionally, despite the book's pacing, the twin's psychic near-omniscience defuses dramatic tension in a coitus interruptus kind of way. But Aaron compensates for this by creating a sense of urgency rooted in the fact the twins' powers are quickly waning. And what's in the speech that's so dangerous?
But given that one will make routine quibbles like those above about formula stories, what really counts in the end is entertainment value. And Out of Sight, Out of Mind has this in spades. I read this book in right around three hours, and it gave me more enjoyment than many of SF's heavily-hyped "big, important" books. True, Aaron loses a little steam right at the end. But sympathetic characterizations and breathless pacing propel this little tale. If you can turn it up the next time you're at the used-book store, take it home. I predict you'll like it.