The Other Side of Silence by Bill Pronzini (Mystery/Suspense Novel, 2008).
Okay, here’s another older book–though still available in various formats from Amazon (and other places). There is also at least one other, more recent book with the same title (inspired by the same George Eliot quote that leads off this one, no doubt). In any case, this time out Bill Pronzini, author of more than 70 books and a Grand Master Award-winner from the Mystery Writers of America, offers up one of his highly suspenseful and atmospheric crime stories. And yes, there’s even something of a twist ending that works quite well, thank you.
Rick Fallon’s life has been gradually coming undone, since the tragic death of his young son three years ago. It’s so bad that his wife’s filing for divorce and leaving him for another man is more a relief than anything else. So he takes off for a hiking trip to Death Valley, the stark desert beauty and quiet will (he hopes) enable him to get his head together and decide what comes next.
But then, he comes across a deserted car and soon the vehicle’s unconscious, suicidal owner. This is Casey Dunbar, a young woman who says her ex-husband kidnapped their son out of pure spite months ago. More recently, she was lured to Las Vegas, where her ex arranged for her to be savagely beaten and raped.
The photo of Casey’s little boy doesn’t really resemble Rick’s late child that much, but her lose dovetails with his own and he determines to help her track down her creepy ex and rescue the kid. A former Army MP and now a security officer at a major corporation, Fallon isn’t a pure novice–but he’s certainly no professional detective. Additionally, his emotional reaction to Casey’s plight may very well be clouding his judgment–he WANTS to believe her story totally and to prove himself to her (and to himself).
The two soon set off to Vegas, where Court (Casey’s ex) had last been sighted. Numerous false leads, the ‘red herrings’ common to so many mystery stories, pile up and have to be sorted out, one after another. And in another time-honored crime story tradition, things are not all what they seem–including Casey.
From the annoying glitz and corruption of Las Vegas the story carries Rick to nearby Laughlin, where Casey disappears and things get progressively more violent and frustrating for Rick. Then it’s on to San Diego (where Casey lived) and after more dead ends, to her rich employer’s desert retreat where things come together in brutal fashion, as the twist I mentioned above is revealed.
As usual, I decline to spoil what’s what–and for fans of hardnosed (yet thoughtful) suspense fiction, it’s worth accompanying Rick Fallon on this journey of discovery (of self and others) and his ultimate redemption.
I wouldn’t class this book as quite a classic in its field. But it’s darn good–entertaining and emotionally involving, with plenty of action and a fine portrait of a damaged man regaining his place in the world. Plus Pronzini’s take on the bleak yet magnificent landscape of the desert southwest (rendered through his protagonist’s eyes) is at once poetic and discerning.
So yes, I do indeed recommend tracking this one down–it should prove much easier and less time-consuming than finding young Kevin proved for Rick Fallon!