Sunday, September 13, 2009

Call Me A Weenie

Mug shots: Pix of Thomas B. Sawyer (top) and William Bernhardt (bottom) came from the Web. I snapped the photo of Ridley Pearson at Left Coast Crime-Monterey 2004.

By Pat Browning

I’m a weenie. Can’t stand suspense. Makes my skin itch. I’ve been known to turn to the last page of a book to find out who lives, who dies, and then go back and finish reading the book. A story is a story. Even if I know how it ends, I want to know how it gets there from here.

I’ve recently read three excellent suspense novels by seasoned authors. All three books are different, but all three are page-turners.

You might assume from the riveting first pages of Thomas B. Sawyer’s NO PLACE TO RUN that a guy named Bill Lawrence is the protagonist. You might be right. You might be wrong. Things are not always what they seem in this Byzantine tale of the discovery of certain facts about the events leading to 9/11 – and the desperate, damn-the-costs attempt to prevent them from emerging.

What rogue federal agents do to protect a powerful Washington figure with a connection to the terror attacks of 9/11 makes for nasty business. Sawyer brings it down to human levels with a 24 year-old sister and her young brother running for their lives, trusting no one, not even the agent intent on saving them, as they try to solve cryptic evidence uncovered by their father.

Sawyer is a TV/film veteran and it shows in the quick cuts from scene to scene, with no wasted motion. Along about page 50 the story stretches out a little with a bit of back-story. But don’t get comfortable. The whole thing blows up with a shocking twist, and takes off in a different, unexpected direction.

NO PLACE TO RUN is an exciting, satisfying, thought-provoking stomach-churner, one worth staying up late to finish.

Ridley Pearson’s KILLER SUMMER is a kind of “Mission Impossible” in reverse. The bad guys are the derring-do team, led by master thief Cantell, planning the perfect heist down to the smallest detail. Idaho’s Sun Valley and environs (towns Hailey and Ketchum) make a perfect setting. The occasion is the annual wine auction, a high society fundraiser. At stake are three old bottles of wine, said to be gifts from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams.

The stage is set. What can possibly go wrong? Just about everything, beginning with a scholar who claims the wines are fakes. Sheriff Walt Fleming and his deputies are a half step behind all the way.

Walt Fleming is an interesting character. Nothing flashy about him, but he’s a good, solid lawman and an expert tracker of those on the wrong side of the law. The last part of the book gives a totally unexpected twist to the heist, ending in a nail-biting pursuit through Idaho’s rugged terrain.

I tried to look up the places where the action takes place, but Idaho looks like one big national forest and wilderness area in a road atlas. Even online maps were no help. This is one time I would have enjoyed seeing a map at the front of the book. I’m a fan of Pearson’s Lou Boldt series, and have added his newer Walt Fleming series to my favorites list.

CAPITOL CONSPIRACY by William Bernhardt has two settings, Oklahoma and Washington D.C. Bernhardt’s contemporary Oklahoma settings are so real it’s like being set down in a particular neighborhood, being part of the action. Offhand I can’t think of another writer who does it as well, except for Robert Fate in his BABY SHARK books.

What kept me turning the pages of CAPITOL CONSPIRACY was the depiction of Washington shenanigans out of sight of reporters and cameras. It’s revolting, and ultimately discouraging. This book was published in 2008 but it might have been written this morning. The tenor of the times is the same.

In Oklahoma City for an anniversary commemoration of the Murrah Building bombing, the President is caught squarely in the midst of an apparent terrorist attack, barely escaping with his life. Others are not so lucky, or well protected.

The country is paralyzed by shock and fear. The President calls on Congress to amend the Constitution by suspending the Bill of Rights. At the center of the action is Ben Kincaid, a newly appointed senator filling an unexpired term.

Kincaid is a low-profile Tulsa lawyer. He’s married to his chief of staff who’s a real firecracker. Together they negotiate the treacherous halls of Congress and the national uproar over constitutional rights. The surprise ending is a testament to greed and ambition at high levels.

CAPITOL CONSPIRACY is 16th in Bernhardt’s Ben Kincaid series. Number 17, CAPITOL OFFENSE, will be released Sept. 29, and 18 in the series, CAPITOL BETRAYAL, is due out from Ballantine in March 2010. I hope to go back through the list and read some of the earlier ones.

All of a sudden I seem to be hooked on suspense novels. Right now I’m two-thirds of the way through A PLAGUE OF SECRETS, a legal drama by John Lescroart. If Lescroart knows what he’s talking about, a U.S. attorney’s reach and power is worse than scary.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Pat, there is no shortage of shenanigans in Washington DC, which is what makes the setting so attractive for suspense novelists:)

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

I guess I'm a weenie too, cause I often take a peek at the last couple of pages before finishing a book. Gotta know who lives and dies and who gets what girl!

Anonymous said...


Until recently I avoided suspense novels like the plague, except for old Cold War novels written by Helen MacInnes,and even further back, the timeless REBECCA by Daphne DuMaurier.

But today's legal and political climate seems just ripe for suspense novels. And then there's the welcome relief of a good old fashioned caper novel. I'm enjoying them.


Anonymous said...


Here to us weenies! LOL