Stephen J. Cannell

"The Viking Funeral"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark DEC 13, 2001)

The Viking Funeral by Stephen J. Cannell at amazon.com

Detective Shane Scully is on leave from the LAPD and under psychological review as a result of his last job (The Tin Collectors). So the last thing he needs is to see his childhood friend, Jody Dean, driving the fast lane of the 405 in a dirty black and orange '76 charger, because Jody's dead. He committed suicide two years earlier. Despite logic, Shane knows this is Jody when they meet eye to eye from their respective cars. He senses the same telepathic communication they shared as kids; only this time it isn't a baseball play. Jody's saying "Forget you ever saw me." Which of course Scully can't let this go, because if Jody is alive and faked his death he's hurt deeply. Jody's suicide nearly precipitated his own.

There's also the little problem of how to explain this to Sergeant Alexa Hamilton, the woman he intends to marry, and the rest of the police department. With Alexa, it's not too hard. He was on the way to the airport to pick up her brother when he saw Jody and totaled her Suburu. Of course she doesn't buy that it was really Jody, nor does she want him to pursue this fantasy any further. So after lunch, he immediately breaks his promise and goes searching for the two people who witnessed the corpse, Jody's Commander and Jody's wife. When he knocks on retired Captain Medwick's door, he learns that Medwick never returned from a trip to the hardware store the previous day. Next he visits Laura Dean and discovers that she's turned into an afternoon drinker and has become an overweight mess. Yet, he notices, she's getting checks from the City payroll department. Suicides normally lose their benefits.

Then, he's awoken with a telephone call from Jody, who's speaking in "con lingo" and warning him to leave it alone or else he's going to mess up their operation. So now Shane is more mad than hurt and truly frightened about the activity that Jody and the LAPD are into. If this group is operating under deep cover as Jody says, then who is supervising them?

Without giving more of this fast paced story away, one thing leads to another until finally Shane and Alexa meet with the new Chief of Police, Filosian, who helps cook up a plan to shake Jody and his Viking crew out. It's a dangerous plan in which Shane is to pretend to kill Alexa to show Jody that he really wants to work for him. But the plan goes awry and now Shane is one more rogue cop in Jody's Viking crew helping to close the final deal. Worse, Shane has the extra chore of trying to stay alive because Jody's Vikings are out of control and don't like Jody's old friend getting a share.

I like when I'm entertained by a fast moving thriller and the ones I enjoy the most hit on current events usually detailing a subject that I hadn't known too much about. No matter the political or corporate intrigue or government cover up, when I've finished the book, I may feel worldlier, but it's rare that I feel really righteous. The Viking Funeral is that exception. Cannell has hit on an activity that really irks me not only because it is allowed to go on unchecked by our government, despite their "war on drugs," but also because it is amoral.

As Stephen J. Cannell says in his dedication, he came upon this story line nearly two years ago while having lunch with Bill Gately, a former U.S. customs money-laundering expert. The laundering of drug money profits has always been a very vague concept to me. Sure, I know why it's done and it always makes sense when it is used as a motive in a movie or novel, but the actual logistics of money laundering remained an abstract concept to me. After reading The Viking Funeral, I better understand how the cash cycles through from the drug dealers to the banks and back to the cartels. But the point of this book isn't simply about the bank-to-bank transfers and hiding the money trail. It is about the role of many Fortune 500 companies who offer their goods in "parallel market product" and, thereby, help launder Colombian drug money. "Any company with product that doesn't weigh much -- like cigarettes or booze or electronics -- is prime for the hustle." I'm so pleased about finally understanding the process that I'm about to spell it out here. I think you'll agree that it would be better if you read the novel to find out the details, since Cannell's meaty plot does a very good job of laying out how the parallel market works AND in a way that isn't in the least bit boring.

Anyhow, back to the novel. You have to know that none of the people that are involved in this whole line of money laundering transactions are very nice (except Shane Scully), so there's lots of action, double crossing and double guessing. The bottom line is that it is a good thriller. Sergeant Detective Shane Scully is really yanked every which way emotionally. You get the impression right off that this guy is not normally a happy guy, but he knows when he has it right. He wants to make Alexa Hamilton a permanent part of his and his son's home life. So when he loses it all to go after Jody, who turns out to be a psychopath, we feel Shane's defeat, especially as he loses himself. We get a sense that going deep undercover could do this to any cop. Sort of like a Viking boat set on fire and sent out to sea.

If you visit The Viking Funeral Web site, there are several contests. One involves creating a short film based on a scene from the book. If I had any ability in this area, I'd film the chapter called "Maicao," where Jody and Shane and the remaining Vikings go into Maicao, Columbia the final stop for the cigarette shipment (and all black market deliveries). The description of the slum housing as they drive into town is depressing, but not all that unexpected. What caught me by surprise was the description of all the packing material left in the streets. "...as they got closer to the warehouse district, the refuse and garbage grew in height, overflowing the curbs. The Styrofoam popcorn now dominated the landscape, swirling over everything, drifting like Rocky Mountain snow banks." In the middle of this poor landscape are magnificent warehouses, which are stocked with goods to rival any department store. The short movie would have to cover more than the setting; it would have to capture the tension felt by the Vikings as they pass the five Colombian families unloading their cigarettes (who each feel they got the short end of the deal) and then as the chapter ends with them walking into the Cantina. The whole sense of Maicao feels like something out of a Wild West mining town. However, it's not gold that's of value in this town, but the shiny new American consumer products and A grade tobacco.

This is my first time reading one of Cannell's novels and although I've liked many of the TV shows that he's produced, I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed reading his novel. Cannell's style is to write many, short chapters, each with an appropriate title, which is always good for telling yourself that you're going to read just one more, especially when the one just read leaves off with a hook. This style also makes it clean and easy to follow the action. Although it didn't seem to detract that I hadn't read the Tin Collectors before this novel, I wish now that I had read them in order. Either way, I now need to read about that episode of Shane Scully's life.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 27 reviews

Read an excerpt from The Viking Funeral at MostlyFiction.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Shane Scully Series

P.I. Jack Wirta:

 

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About the Author:

Stephen J. CannellStephen J. Cannell is an Emmy Award winning writer/producer, bestselling author and Chairman of Cannell Studios. His phenomenally successful careers spans 35 years, writing for the diverse fields of television, film, and popular fiction. One of television's most prolific writers, Cannell has created or co-created more than 38 shows, of which he has scripted more than 350 episodes and produced or executive produced more than 1,500 episodes. His hits include The Rockford Files, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, The Commish, Wiseguy, and the hit syndicated shows Renegade and Silk Stalkings. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children.
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