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by Kelle Ruden for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” Series

Keith Scribner’s riveting first novel is loosely based on the true story of a suburban couple who kidnapped an Exxon executive and held him prisoner in exchange for a hefty ransom. In this imagined version, the couple’s motives and the crime’s startling outcome become a vivid commentary on the moral and social burdens of living in America at the eve of the 21st century.

For Theo and Colleen, the good life is always just out of reach. They deserved more. They worked and got nowhere. Their kids deserved more-an education, cars, travel, and parties. At a time in their lives when their struggles should be behind them, Theo is unemployed and they find themselves living off the charity of Theo’s elderly parents, crammed into his boyhood home with their teen-aged children and no privacy. Desperation is the mother of invention, however, and Theo, who has spent a lifetime looking for an easy answer, devises a plan that he is certain will end his family’s money worries for good.

As an ex-cop, Theo had worked security for a large oil company. It was there that his plan had begun to evolve. Stona Brown was an important man, an executive at Petrochem where executives could easily command 20 to 30 million dollars in ransom. He also had a regular schedule, leaving his home every day at precisely the same time for the drive to his city office. Theo had it all figured out: kidnap Brown, collect a hefty ransom, and disappear to live the life he always dreamed of-and no one would get hurt. With Colleen as his accomplice, Theo sets the wheels in motion for his well-laid plan. Unfortunately, disaster stalks his every move: a handgun meant only for show misfires and wounds Brown. As a hysterical Colleen and an angry Theo drive the abducted Brown to their pre-chosen hiding place, all hopes for an easy getaway quickly fade.

In taut, absorbing prose, Keith Scribner tells a cautionary tale about the times we live in. His story is both topical and extraordinary, certain to start many a debate on materialism and morality. The Goodlife is an exceptional debut heralding the arrival of a powerful new voice in American fiction.