Parallel Liesby Ridley Pearson
Northern Union Railroad has been experiencing a series of accidents with their freight trains, but it is not until they find a freight car covered with blood that they call in outside help. Peter
Penzler Pick, June 2001: Ridley Pearson, who has written 14 previous books, many of them featuring his Seattle cop Lou Boldt, ups the ante in his latest thriller.
Northern Union Railroad has been experiencing a series of accidents with their freight trains, but it is not until they find a freight car covered with blood that they call in outside help. Peter Tyler used to be a cop, until he nearly beat a black man to death and lost his badge. When he gets a second chance via an old friend at the National Transportation Safety Board, he drives a convertible through a snowstorm with the top down (he suffers from claustrophobia) to view the freight car. He arrives at the scene to discover that he will have to deal with Northern Union's own security officer, Nell Priest, a black woman who already knows Tyler's history.
Meanwhile, Umberto Alvarez, the train wrecker, is systematically working his way towards his ultimate wreck, Northern's F.A.S.T. train, due to make its maiden run from New York to Washington, D.C. Alvarez lost his wife and children when their car stalled between the gates at a crossing and were crushed by one of Northern's trains. Although Northern Union was cleared of all responsibility and Alvarez's wife was found negligent, he doesn't think that's so.
As Peter Tyler's investigation proceeds, he begins to come to the same conclusion. Closing in on Alvarez, he tries to interview the crossing guard who was on duty the day the wreck occurred. On arriving at the man's apartment, he finds the man bludgeoned to death--with the same stick with which Tyler beat the black man all that time ago. It's time to get paranoid. Who at Northern is covering up and what role does Nell play in all this? As always in a Ridley Pearson thriller, the action doesn't stop until the final page. --Otto Penzler
Tyler doesn't buy into the prevailing story offered by the railroad, and he begins to point out inconsistencies. He learns that there is a man named Alvarez who has caused a series of train derailments in the past eighteen months. Tyler's unhappy that the railroad has been holding out on him, and he does some more investigating on his own, eventually gathering information that may very well put his life in danger.
Early on in the book, Tyler meets the security executive for the railroad, Nell Priest, a drop-dead-gorgeous African-American woman. Soon, Tyler and Priest begin to fall for each other and eventually begin a romance (in the process of searching for clues, Tyler makes a number of mental notes about the security executive's fine legs). Beyond emphasizing the color of Priest's skin, Pearson doesn't quite know how to handle this last fact. Both characters make a series of token efforts to confront the problems that race might hold for each of them, but these moments always ring hollow. This book's casual style simply isn'tup to the task of handling a serious issue that, in this case, can't seem to be shrugged off. Tyler and Priest dance around anything as authentically important as race, but they have plenty of time to work out a plan for stopping Alvarez.
Introduced into this mix is a supertrain, the so-called Fast Track, whose inaugural run is being sponsored by the same railroad company that Tyler is investigating. Based on the French and Japanese models, the Fast Track will zip from New York to Washington in about the same time it would take a plane. It doesn't take a genius, of course, to figure out that Alvarez will go after the Fast Track. We know Alvarez from the first couple of chapters to be a smart, even decent, man, a former high school science teacher who was tipped over the edge after his wife and children were killed when their train derailed due to a faulty crossing gate. The railroad, as it turns out, is responsible for the crossing gate's failure, and there's been a fairly intense cover-up engineered by the head of security, Keith O'Malley, an ex-Marine and an old buddy of Tyler's boss at the National Transportation Safety Board.
Whatever anguish exists beneath the surface of this book merely manifests itself as quirky behavior on Tyler's partor as a mild case of defensiveness. Tyler never comes off as a truly tormented character. He rents convertibles because he has recurring bouts of claustrophobia and rides around with the top down in the dead of winter. Of course, when it later becomes important to sneak inside the rail yard, Tyler unflinchingly slips into the trunk of a car. In other words, his problems aren't real, they're merely plot contrivancesweak ones at that. Tyler never seems to experience problems that the healing powers of a good woman, for example, wouldn't solve.
I recently heard that Pearson considered writing this book from the point of view of brash Seattle detective John LaMoia, a secondary character in the Lou Bolt series. Whether or not this is true, the impulse sounds about right. LaMoia is a ridiculous character who wears expensive cowboy boots, drives a Trans-Am and chases just about every woman he spots. Peter Tyler has LaMoia's simple, brutish charm. Once you envision babe Nell Priest through the eyes of someone like LaMoia, all of Tyler's own leering begins to make better sense. But characters like LaMoia don't get starring roles for a reason, which makes it even harder to accept Pearson's decision to have someone as one-dimensional as Tyler carrying this book.
It really is stunning how much less Parallel Lies has to offer than many of Pearson's other novels: the half-hearted, even awkward characterizations, the flat, often dull language, not to mention a story line that asks the reader to switch tracks, so to speak, very late down the line. This bookexhausted from carrying the deadweight of a caricatured Priest, not to mention Tyler and O'Malleyin the end lacks any real energy. Perhaps Pearson figured that he didn't need convincing characters when he had a story about a runaway train. But the author's plot machinations couldn't revive this book, which, unfortunately, better resembles a train wreck.
Randy Michael Signor
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Read an Excerpt
The train charged forward in the shimmering afternoon sunlight, autumn's vibrant colors forming a natural lane for the raised bed of chipped rock and the few hundred tons of steel and wood. The rails stretched out before the locomotive, light glinting off their polished surfaces, tricked by the eye into joining together a half mile in the distance, the illusion always moving forward at the speed of the train, as if those rails spread open just in time to carry her.
For the driver of that freight, it was another day in paradise. Alone with his thoughts, he and his brakeman, pulling lumber and fuel oil, cotton and cedar, sixteen shipping containers, and seven empty flatbeds. Paradise was that sound in your ears and that rumble up your legs. It was the blue sky meeting the silver swipe of tracks far off on the horizon. It was a peaceful job. The best work there was. It was lights and radios and doing something good for peoplegetting stuff from one place to another. The driver packed another pinch of chewing tobacco deep between his cheeks and gum, his mind partly distracted by a bum air conditioner in the bedroom of a mobile home still miles away, wondering where the hell he'd get the three hundred bucks needed to replace it. He could put it on the credit card, but that amounted to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Maybe some overtime. Maybe he'd put in for an extra run.
The sudden vibration was subtle enough that a passenger would not have felt it. A grinding, like bone rubbing on bone. His first thought was that some brakes had failed, that a compressor had failed, that he had a lockup midtrain. His hand reached to slow the mighty beast. But before he initiated any brakingbefore he only compounded the problemhe checked a mirror and caught sight of the length of her as the train chugged through a long, graceful turn and down a grade that had her really clipping along. It was then his heart did its first little flutter, then he felt a heat in his lungs and a tension in his neck like someone had pulled on a cable. It wasn't the brakes.
A carnumber seven or eightwas dancing back there like she'd had too much to drink. Shaking her hips and wiggling her shoulders all at once, kind of swimming right there in the middle of all the others. Not the brakes, but an axle. Not something that could be resolved.
He knew the fate of that train before he touched a single control, before his physical motions caught up to the knowledge that fourteen years on the line brought to such a situation.
In stunned amazement, he watched that car do her dance. What had looked graceful at first, appeared suddenly violent, no longer a dance but now a seizure as the front and the back of that car alternately jumped left to right and right to left, and its boxlike shape disintegrated to something awkwardly bent and awful. It leaned too far, and as it did, the next car began that same cruel jig.
He pulled back the throttle and applied the brakes but knew it was an exercise in futility. The locomotive now roiled with a tremor that shook dials to where he couldn't read them. His teeth rattled in his head as he reached for the radio. "Mayday!" he shouted, having no idea why. There were codes to use, procedure to follow, but only that one word exploded from his mouth.
The cars rolled now, one after another, first toward the back then forward toward the locomotive, the whole thing dragging and screaming, the beauty of its frictionless motion destroyed. The cars tilted right and fell, swiping the trees like the tail of a dragon, splintering and knocking them down like toothpicks, the sky littered with autumn colors. And then a ripple began as that tail lifted briefly toward the sky. The cars, one coupled to the next, floated above the tracks and then fell, like someone shaking a kink out of a lawn hose.
Going for the door handle, he let go of the throttle, the "dead man's switch" taking over and cutting engine power. He lost his footing and fell to the floor of the cab, his brain numb and in shock. He didn't know whether to jump or ride it out.
He would later tell investigators that the noise was like nothing he'd ever heard, like nothing that could be described. Part scream. Part explosion. A deafening, immobilizing dissonance, while the smell of steel sparking on steel rose in his nostrils and sickened his stomach to where he sat puking on the oily cab floor, crying out as loudly as he could in an effort to blot out that sound.
He felt all ten tons of the engine car tip heavily right, waver there, precariously balanced up on the one rail, and then plunge to the earth, the whole string of freights buckling and bending and dying behind him in a massive pileup.
He saw a flatbed fly overhead, only the blue sky behind it. This, his last conscious vision, incongruous and unfathomable. For forty long seconds the cars collided, tumbled, shrieked, and flew as they ripped their way through soil and forest, carried by momentum until an ungainly silence settled over the desecrated track, and the orange, red, and silver leaves fell out of a disturbed sky as if laying a blanket over the face of a corpse.
Excerpted from PARALLEL LIES by RIDLEY PEARSON. Copyright © 2001 by Page One, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Ridley Pearson is the award-winning co-author, along with Dave Barry, of Peter and the Starcatchers, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, Peter and the Sword of Mercy, Escape From the Carnivale, Cave of the Dark Wind, Blood Tide, and Science Fair. In addition to Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark, Kingdom Keepers: Disney at Dawn, Kingdom Keepers: Disney in Shadow, and Kingdom Keepers: Power Play, he is also the author of the young adult thrillers Steel Trapp: The Challenge and Steel Trapp: The Academy. He has written more than twenty best-selling crime novels, including Killer View and Killer Weekend. He was the first American to be awarded the Raymond Chandler/Fulbright Fellowship in Detective Fiction at Oxford University.
- St. Louis, Missouri
- Date of Birth:
- March 13, 1953
- Place of Birth:
- Glen Cove, New York
- Kansas University, B.A., Brown University
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Peter Tyler was a DC police officer working homicide for years until he snapped upon seeing a big man brutalize a little girl. Swooping down as an avenger, Peter vigorously attacked the assailant to an unusual degree that took several officers to finally stop him. The media goes on a feeding frenzy because a white cop beat up an African-American. The case went to court where Peter was acquitted of criminal excess use of force, but still lost his job and ultimately his girl and probably his house. Umberto Alvarez was a happy person until his wife and twin daughters died at a railroad crossing when a Northern Union train hit them. The NTSB ruled driver error, but a bitter Umberto knows that the bar and lights failed. For eighteen months, he has as sabotaged Northern Union property especially trains. His current plan is to destroy the new bullet train that is based on F-A-S-T track technology unless the president of the transit company publicly announces they caused the deaths of his beloved family. Peter gives chase, but Umberto seems several steps ahead of his pursuer as the clock to disaster winds down. Suspense grandmaster Ridley Pearson has written a fascinating action thriller in which the villain is a victim. The chase scenes on the trains take the audience for a breathless ride into hell for the pursuer. However, the heart of the tale resides with Peter who needs redemption and Umberto who demands justice as their PARALLEL LIES intersect. Harriet Klausner
Enjoyed this book a lot!!! Excellent suspense and interesting story. I will never look at trains the same.
My review splits down the middle. The writing and suspense put to paper by Mr. Pearson is really good BUT, the ending leaves me very much disturbed. After 30 years in law enforcement I find that letting Alverez go without any penalty very hard to take. Yes he does lose his wife and two children but we are a civilized society that lives and operates by the rule of law. Tyler many times stated that the cost to the railroad company was “covered by insurance”, but every loss by an insurance company is covered by increased premiums to the affected company AND to everyone else being covered by the insurance company. So we all paid for the railroads losses. Is this OK with Tyler? Alverez’s actions caused at least three deaths and many injuries and extensive time lost by first responders when they may have been able to help others rather than being tied up with Alverez’s actions. The ends do not justify the means. Does Tyler (and thus Mr. Pearson) accept and justify Alverez’s actions? Tyler stated that he felt abandoned by “the system” of the courts but it was not the system that was lacking it was his attorney that fought the wrong fight. Playing the “protect the child” stance was not the right tactic; it was the “self defense” posture that would have saved his career. Alverez’s brother could very easily be taken care of by the “riches” that Alverez had accumulated if not the railroad be required to foot the bill. For me Mr. Pearson’s ending said it is alright to kill and destroy if you could do some good word otherwise. I think that sends the wrong image as to what we as civilized people live with. I do not commend Mr. Pearson for his writing I condemn his message.
Not the best from Pearson but an enjoyable book. I WOULD recomend it..
Though our favorite books are the Boldt series, this opens a whole new venue for Pearson's talents. Like Sandord and others, it provides a different lead character to cast, a different set of circumstances with the result of another exciting book. thanks, Ridley
I have been a Ridley Pearson fan for many years. Parallel Lies is one of his best books. I actually cheered for the bad guy and the good guy. I never thought I would enjoy a railroad mystery and now I need another one to read.
'He took each minute separately, and though a compulsive planner, he had learned to adapt and adjust his plans to suit the moment. He rarely knew what the next hour would bring. The only constant is change--his personal mantra. He did not spend a lot of time worrying; he left that for others. Instead, he focused almost single-mindedly on bringing Northern Union to its knees.'--From chap. 12. Umberto Alvarez is a widower. His wife and their four-year-old twins were killed by a train that demolished their van at a railroad crossing in Genoa, Illinois. There was negligence involved and a cover-up by the Northern Union Railroad. Stricken with grief, anger, and a need for revenge, Alvarez vows to destroy Northern Union. Peter Tyler, a dedicated policeman who has lost his shield because of the stupidities of 'political correctness' and reverse discrimination, and Nell Priest, a beautiful and intelligent African American investigator, cross paths early in the novel. In this suspenseful cat-and-mouse chase, they both are on the trail of the unknown saboteur who is wreaking havoc by derailing Northern Union freight trains. Alvarez has one last sabotage in mind: the destruction of NUR's bullet train, an ultra-sleek technological marvel called the F-A-S-T Track Express, which, traveling at the speed of 180 mph, will make the run from New York City to Washington, D.C. in two and a half hours. Sending out conflicting signals, the novel leaves us with mixed emotions. We begin to pull for the saboteur, empathizing with him because of the injustice he has suffered. The danger, however, is that anarchy, taking the law into one's own hands, is a treacherous path to tread; two wrongs do not make a right. A nail-biting, white-knuckled ride, PARALLEL LIES will make an excellent action film. Its plot bristles with multiple possibilities, making one wonder down which track the author will take us, and how he will resolve the tale.
This book was exciting and the suspense never let up. Hard to put down to the very end.
Pearson keeps the pages turning with the adrenaline rush of the chase. He keeps you guessing as to who are the good guys & who are the bad. I got caught up in the twists & turns of this skilled writer. I've not read anything by Pearson before & I couldn't put it down! I never cross a closed railroad barrier but, thanks to Pearson, I'll be sure now to look both ways before I cross open tracks. Don't miss this one!
Umberto Alverez's life consists of one thing...bringing the railroad company, he holds responsible for the death of his wife and children, down. Pete Tyler is an ex-cop trying to redeem himself after losing his badge. Now working as an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, he is put on the case of the railroad killer, a madman killing homeless people called 'riders'. As his investigation deepens, it becomes more complicated. And determined to reach their goal, both men will stop at nothing to get what they want, until Tyler uncovers the truth about Alvarez, a truth he never expected. 'Parallel Lies' is a fast moving thriller, with characters as real, as they are unusual. This tale of two men set out to right the wrongs in their life is at once a gripping thriller, and the examination of the human spirit to overcome the tragedies they are faced with - no matter what extent they will have to go to. Ridley Pearson is, once again, grabbing his readers and pulling them through a twisting thriller full of action, suspense, and a touch of romance. A sure bet for beach reading. Nick Gonnella