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Book Review

'The Catch' a Drama of Drugs and Love

THE CATCH: by Kim Wozencraft; Doubleday $23.95, 306 pages

November 27, 1998|SUSAN LYDON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I don't know if I'd say, as the jacket copy of "The Catch" states, that "no one knows the seductive world of drugs and addiction better than Kim Wozencraft," but I would say she's got a pretty good grasp of the moral conundrum drugs pose to a person of conscience on either side of the law.

Wozencraft, the author of the novel "Rush," later a movie, about undercover narcs who become seriously addicted to drugs, begins "The Catch" with a smuggling scene. Kurt Trowbridge, who's been moving marijuana and hashish into the country by the ton for most of his adult life, is waiting for a plane carrying a large load to arrive and land in a field. The field is muddy, and the landing is so problematic that the plane has to be left there. And though the load is spirited away by his seasoned crew, Kurt is busted.

The problem is made worse by the fact that over the years, Kurt has acquired a wife, Annie, and two young sons. The family lives in a comfortable house in upstate New York, ostensibly supported by a small antique store they've bought as a front.

The bust sets into motion a chain of events, and therein lies the plot. Annie, once entranced by the outlaw glamour of Kurt's smuggling, is now a mother who's fiercely protective of her children.

Kurt has been promising for years to stop smuggling. But the thrill of the gamble, the big payoffs and the fact that, as he sees it, he's really not doing anything wrong, keeps him in the game. He's a decent enough guy who loves his wife and children and is good at his work, but he just can't go straight.

On the other side, Joseph Kessler, the DEA agent who has been studying Kurt's operation for years, is also beset by moral dilemmas. He's lost his wife and family over his workaholic lifestyle, fueled by anger over a brother who died of a drug overdose.

He develops a big crush on Annie, telling her that any man who loved his family wouldn't endanger them as Kurt has done; in the meantime he's steadily tracking Kurt, eventually using an informant to entrap him.

In genre terms, "The Catch" is a thriller, with a love triangle at its core, and the writing tends more toward pulp than toward literature. The scenes of Annie with her two young sons are curiously intimate, almost a non sequitur in the generally hard-bitten tone of the characters' inner musings.

But the novel's plot details a struggle worth exploring. Kurt and Annie could stand in for any number of couples who began moving, growing, dealing or smuggling drugs in the '60s, became accustomed to the lifestyle it afforded them and now find themselves imperiled in the political climate of the '90s.

Wozencraft is not the only writer who knows this world, but she also knows it well enough that the book she's constructed about it bears reading.

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