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 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
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.
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 trainssix so faras 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 exhomicide 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 proas 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