Review

The Pallbearers: A Shane Scully Novel

by Stephen J. Cannell

Up until now, my favorite novel by Stephen J. Cannell had been
AT FIRST SIGHT. This stand-alone work was so different from his
Shane Scully books that its considerable merits flew under the
radar of many. Several years after its publication, I still
recommend it to people and will continue to do so. But now it has
company at the top of my list of Cannell must-reads; make way for
THE PALLBEARERS, the latest installment in the Scully mythos.

THE PALLBEARERS succeeds because it incorporates so many
wonderful elements --- protagonist motive, interesting characters,
riveting mystery and adult relationships. The driving force behind
the book’s events is the death of Walter “Pop”
Dix, the manager of Huntington House, a group home for parentless
children. Scully, an abandoned youth full of bitterness and anger,
was one of Huntington’s “yo-yos,” shuttled into
and out of foster homes only to return to Huntington. Dix was the
one constant in Scully’s life, the tipping point but for whom
his fate might have been far different. Dix would often take his
charges surfing early in the morning, and Scully was able to take
the thread of love and care that Dix provided and make something of
himself.

Unfortunately, the adult who Scully grew up to become has been
long out of touch with Dix, so the news that Dix has inexplicably
committed suicide raises feelings in him of sorrow and regret in
equal measure. He is puzzled when he learns that Dix selected him,
as well as five fellow “graduates” of Huntington, to be
pallbearers at his funeral. The others --- a wiseguy biker, a
defense attorney not far removed from his clientele, an Iraq war
veteran, a pistol-packing accountant, and the current
Secretary-Treasurer of Huntington --- are to varying degrees
convinced that Dix, an eternal optimist for whom surfing was an
avocation secondary only to his young charges, was in fact
murdered.

All of the evidence suggests otherwise. Scully, driven partially
by his guilt over having neglected his relationship with Dix,
reluctantly begins an examination of Dix’s death, which
already has been ruled a suicide by the L.A. Coroner’s
office. No one is more surprised than Scully when it is discovered
that Dix’s death was foul play after all.

Scully’s new acquaintances all bring very different
strengths to the table and are reluctant to play follower behind
Scully’s leader, particularly because they are motivated more
by revenge than by the prospect of building a case against the
murderer. Scully is reluctant to relinquish control, yet as their
partially official, partially off-the-books investigation
continues, the team is able to conquer its initial uneasiness and
make progress. It may all be for naught, however; what they uncover
is a scheme to steal millions of dollars, and they are up against a
mighty foe who has some very powerful foot soldiers. In a climax
that takes them far from the surf that Dix loved, the pallbearers
make a desperate attempt to bring Dix’s murderer to justice.
Whether or not their best will be good enough will keep you
guessing practically to the last page.

THE PALLBEARERS grabbed me within its first few pages. Cannell
introduces Dix right away, and in just a couple of paragraphs, he
makes the reader love him as much as the pallbearers did. By the
second chapter, one can’t help but feel the same righteous
anger over Dix’s death and to be just as certain as the team
that there is no way the man could have committed suicide. It takes
a superior talent to do this, and Cannell, creator of some of
television’s best-loved series of the late 20th century, is
up to the challenge. Whether Cannell is on your must-read list or
is an author you only sample occasionally, THE PALLBEARERS is not
to be missed.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 14, 2011

The Pallbearers: A Shane Scully Novel
by Stephen J. Cannell

  • Publication Date: September 28, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0312532458
  • ISBN-13: 9780312532451