Ridley Pearson


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"Killer View"

(reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew JUL 15, 2008)

"Walt worked the glider into a wide spiral, climbing into an azure sky, carried aloft by thermals generated by the mountain landmass below. Killer view, Walt thought. To their right, the vast central plain of Idaho stretched out like a lake of desert sand, interrupted occasionally by volcanic cones dormant some ten thousand years. So random were these buttes, they appeared artificially placed. They saw bunker-like buildings surrounded by tangles of pipes and aprons of parking lot. So secret was the work done here, so important to national security."

The controversy about the extent to which government may demand or coerce citizens to keep silent about potentially life-threatening environmental or man-made hazards (not to mention other things) plays off an equally opposite pressure exerted by individuals and groups objecting so strenuously to government secrecy that they use force and violence to expose it. When confronting this double bind, the question arises whether the actions of domestic terror groups are really ethically different from those sanctioned by elected and appointed officials. Is the license of "national security" sufficient to immunize those in power positions for conduct that, for individuals without such officious authority, would lead to prison? These are questions to ponder while immersed in Killer View.

Ridley Pearson introduced Walt Fleming, the capable sheriff of Sun Valley, Idaho, in last year's Killer Weekend, a thriller/whodunit about the attempted assassination of a woman attorney general planning a run for the White House. Now, this series continues with Killer View, another suspense novel with political buttresses.

Initially, Walt leads a search party for a missing skier, based on a panicky, anonymous phone tip. The foray to the unforgiving Drop on Galena Pass during a snowstorm turns up no missing person but leaves one of the volunteers, Randy Aker, dead. At first, he's thought to have slipped and fallen. But Walt soon suspects murder. The sheriff's suspicions widen when Mark Aker, his friend and Randy's brother, disappears.

Both brothers were veterinarians, and although Randy's specialty was large animals and Mark's was small, Walt follows evidence indicating Mark attended some sick sheep on several of the richest ranches in the area. But when the sheriff checks with the owners of the sheep spreads they are evasive and stonewall him. Was Mark going to blow the whistle on them for covering up a contagious, deadly outbreak?

Mysterious human illness also breaks out at the nearby Trilogy Springs water bottling plant, sending at least two employees to the hospital. Then Walt and Deputy Brandon, in the course of their investigations, register "hot" on their newly issued radiation badges, Walt's detective instincts point him toward Triumph, "among the nation's top five most toxic sites on the EPA's Superfund list," as a possible source of contaminants. He doesn't rule out either a possible radioactive leak at Idaho Nuclear Laboratory (INL).

Keeping the search for Mark on the front burner, Walt wrestles with how all these developments are related and might be the key to finding his friend. He keeps returning to his and Mark's last, unfinished conversation, where his friend hinted at a larger scheme at work by saying, " 'We never talk...politics.' "

In a span of just over a week, Walt, Tommy Brandon (who happens to be Walt's estranged wife's lover as well as his deputy), photographer Fiona Kenshaw, and Walt's department cover a lot of ground as they attempt to isolate exactly where Mark might be. Walt even pilots his own glider (until it is confiscated) and then another, hoping to pinpoint geographical evidence and suspects.

Walt isn't a player in every scene in Killer View. The reader also spends time with the kidnapper, first as a no-name who cold-bloodedly kidnaps a young woman. He and another man brutalize her as they try to extract information. Later, name now revealed, he deals with his other captive. But the kidnapper's own obsessive mission to expose the federal government's environmental debacles and other secrets causes him to seek his prisoner's cooperation. When the captor eases up his precautions, the kidnappee, in a burst of energy, attacks his tormentor and beats out into the wilderness. This leads to a couple of the most hair-raising sequences in Killer View. I won't spoil them. Suffice to say that they involve a bear up close and personal.

If it seems that Killer View has more balls in the air than it can juggle, well...no and yes. Pearson certainly pieces together a fast-paced tale from diverse elements, and while this adds a sense of disorientation while reading (a little like being on a speeding merry-go-round), by the end, those pieces do fit into the larger frame. But the author is so busy packing in descriptions of Glitter Gulch (i.e., Sun Valley) and keeping his plot from running away with him and us, that many of the characters are pretty flimsy. In fact, Walt is the only character who really has considerable dimension. Fiona, who is shaping up as a potential future romantic partner for the sheriff, gets a few good investments in personality, but Gail, the faithless wife, is a too-unsympathetic cipher. Mark and Tommy Brandon flicker into a semblance of personhood. Since the kidnapper's point of view is portrayed quite often, his repellent character is fleshed out more than the influential and rich Senator Peavey and Roger Hillabrand, among others. Pearson also got some flack for thin characters in Killer Weekend. Perhaps he believes that over the course of the entire series, he can slowly strengthen the supporting characters and that plot must drive the novels. However, more balance between characters and plot development would be enhance the reading experience.

As mentioned earlier, this book turns over a serious dilemma -- not in great depth, but provocatively enough to prod readers to consider real world applications. Killer View admittedly burrows into sensitive and ethically ambiguous political terrain. As he tries to make sense of all the clues, Walt never forgets Mark's comment about "politics." At one of his internal crossroads Walt thinks, "The rights of the few for the good of the many." He must confront the unsettling, ever shifting Rubik's cube constructed from individual and governmental rights and responsibilities. He has to ask himself whether a ruthless cover-up instigated by the federal authorities under the auspices of national security would be any more justifiable than the lawless attempts by certain individuals and groups to expose such governmental secrecy. Walt talks to someone about that:

"They were willing to stay quiet because you paid them to," Walt said, "And there's the rub."

"How's that?"

"You and a couple of others...convinced yourselves that what you were doing was for the good of the country."

"Yes. And your point?"

...."What makes you any different than them? Weren't they doing the exact same thing?"

...."But we're the good guys."

Don't the people staffing every cause and organization think they are "the good guys?" Read Killer View and see if there are any "good guys"....

  • Amazon reader rating: from 23 reviews

 



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Featuring Lou Boldt and Daphne Matthews:

Featuring Sheriff Walt Fleming:

* Lou Boldt helps out!

For kids:

Writing as Wendell McCall:

Writing with David Barry:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Ridley PearsonRidley Pearson raised in Riverside, Connecticut was the first American to be awarded the Raymond Chandler/Fulbright Fellowship in detective fiction at Oxford University, and his novel No Witnesses was selected by the ALA as one the best fiction books of 1994. Pearson's Lou Boldt series is being produced as an A&E original movie. For eleven years, Pearson was on the road as a folk-rock musician and is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, along with Stephen King and Amy Tan.

Pearson lives with his wife and two daughters, dividing their time between Missouri and Idaho.

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