NO WAY OUT is the first book I’ve read by Joel Goldman, and it’s a good one. It’s part of his series featuring retired FBI agent Jack Davis, who was forced to leave the Bureau because of a medical disability. He has a movement disorder in which stress brings on a number of violent tics . . . not a good thing for somebody who normally carried a gun in his line of work. Jack, who is also the narrator of the book, now works as an investigator for a private detective firm, and as this novel opens, he and his fellow operatives are involved in a case with a high potential for tragedy. A husband in the midst of a bitter divorce with his wife is suspected of kidnapping and murdering their two young children, who have disappeared. Jack and the people he works with are trying to find the kids.
While that’s going on, Jack gets dragged into another case when he witnesses a shootout in a barbecue joint. This is another domestic case – a husband arguing with his wife pulls a gun and kills her, after which the young female bookkeeper who works for the man pulls her gun and shoots and wounds the man to keep him from killing everybody else in the place. Jack winds up trying to help the young woman, who has a troubled family history, after she gets mixed up in what is apparently a conspiracy to commit murder.
If you think all this sounds complicated, well, Goldman is just getting started. NO WAY OUT has one of the most complex plots I’ve encountered in a long time, and as Jack tries to work his way through both cases, he runs across twist after twist. You know those books where the detective has to spend page after page at the end explaining everything? This is one of those. When handled well, it’s a very good thing, and Goldman does a great job of nailing everything down. There are lots of murders, lots of suspects, and plenty of action.
The real appeal of this book, though, is Jack Davis himself. He’s a mess, both mentally and physically, but still very likable. A lot of times when you have a detective with some sort of physical disability, it comes across as gimmicky, but not here. Jack has a lot more to be angst-ridden about than just his movement disorder, including living with his ex-wife who’s dying of cancer. Throw in some missing and possibly murdered kids, and NO WAY OUT is a pretty grim book, but Goldman manages to insert just enough moments of humor to keep the bleakness from becoming overwhelming.
I also liked the setting, which is Kansas City and the surrounding area. It’s a refreshing change from New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. The prose is nothing fancy, just straight-ahead storytelling, but it certainly kept me turning the pages.
NO WAY OUT is a good example of a complex thriller with a flawed but appealing hero, and I’ll probably read more by Joel Goldman. Recommended.
THE PULP CALENDAR: October 20
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