Parallel Lies

Parallel Lies

4.1 16
by Ridley Pearson

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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

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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

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Editorial Reviews

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
a strong cinematic quality to the action, that the novel is good vacation reading for summer travelers-even those taking the train.
Following on the heels of Middle of Nowhere, the latest in the excellent Lou Bolt series, Parallel Lies features Peter Tyler, a recently disgraced D.C. homicide cop who, to hear him tell it, was just having a bad day when he beat a child abuser to a pulp. Tyler caught the man in the act of swinging a baby against the wall, the way you'd beat an old rug to clean it. After the incident, Tyler lost his job, his wife, his house and even his Norton motorcycle. Now it's the middle of winter and he's found a freelance gig at the National Transportation Safety Board, investigating a blood-splattered boxcar in a snowy St. Louis rail yard.

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 part—or 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 contrivances—weak 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 book—exhausted from carrying the deadweight of a caricatured Priest, not to mention Tyler and O'Malley—in 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

(Excerpted Review)
Library Journal
Pearson (No Witnesses, etc.) has written another terrific thriller, this time without Lou Boldt and company. Two years after his family was killed when a train collided with their car, Umberto Alvarez is still grieving. Knowing that the train company is at fault but unable to prove it, he decides to take revenge. Shortly before a new high-speed commuter line is unveiled, derailments start plaguing the railroads. Ex-homicide detective Pete Tyler, who is determined to redeem himself after being dismissed from the force, takes on the case as a temporary hire for the National Transportation Safety Board. As this fabulous novel progresses, the lines of good and evil blur. Another essential acquisition from Pearson, this is highly recommended for all public libraries. Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Parallel Lies is surely best seller bound.
Palo Alto Daily News
Parallel Lies, an irresistible, pulse-pounding thriller as action-packed and fast-paced as thrillers come.
Kirkus Reviews
Pearson gives Seattle cop Lou Boldt (Middle of Nowhere, 2000, etc.) a well-earned sabbatical to concentrate on the high-speed pursuit of a vengeful saboteur obsessed with wrecking trains. It's not all high-speed, of course. In fact, the first stages of the exposition, as uneasy allies investigate the consequences of what might have seemed a routine fight between a pair of hoboes aboard a Northern Union Railroad boxcar, are positively sluggish. Pearson reveals early on that one of the boxcar battlers is Umberto Alvarez, a former grade-school science teacher now bent on derailing Northern Union freight trains—six so far—as a prelude to gracing the F-A-S-T Track passenger express between New York and Washington. Since Alvarez seems too decent a fellow to raise many shivers, however, about all that powers the opening scenes is ex—homicide cop Peter Tyler's suspicions of Nell Priest, the Northern Union security officer he's been paired with, and his worries that his temporary position as an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board will lead nowhere, leaving him stuck in debt after his assault on a murderous child abuser threw him off the force. But once Tyler learns that the victim in the boxcar scuffle was no ordinary hobo, and that Nell knew his identity but withheld it from Tyler, the tale picks up speed. And when Tyler, realizing that Alvarez's position is uncomfortably like his own, shares his misgivings about the manhunt with the Northern Union brass only to be dropped into the soup, Pearson works this man-on-the-run episode like a pro—as if you didn't already know that the climax would put the resourceful saboteur, the dogged cop, and the rest ofthe cast on the bullet train hurtling toward D.C. at 180 miles an hour. Stick with the slow opening movement and you'll be rewarded with a bravura display of acceleration, even before the call for that fatal train. $300,000 ad/promo; author tour

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Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.12(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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 people—getting 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 braking—before he only compounded the problem—he 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 car—number seven or eight—was 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.

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