MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is the latest of Ridley Pearson's police-procedural novels with protagonist Lou Boldt. Like Michael Connelly and James Patterson (to mention other authors who follow this increasingly popular pattern), Pearson writes both series books and standalone thrillers.
If you have been following the series, then you'll know that Lou Boldt has recently been promoted to Lieutenant --- a promotion that was giving him some problems at the end of the previous book and continues to do so in this one. Other familiar characters to series readers are Detective Bobbie Gaynes, whom Boldt promoted to Homicide from Sex Crimes Unit; and police psychologist Daphne Matthews, who has not only her professional psychology credentials but also went through police academy training and so carries a badge, a gun, and the rank of Lieutenant. She and Boldt had an affair a book or so back, when she outranked him. Boldt is married, but his marriage was on the rocks until his wife contracted a form of cancer that is now in remission (though Boldt's guilt is far from in remission). Now Lou and Daphne are on level ground professionally --- but no longer physically touching --- and the personal tension and interplay between these two characters contributes positively to MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.
The book opens in a prologue with the murder of a woman who it seems had no reason to be killed --- and the widespread opinion is that she might not have died if it were not for a bad case of "the Blue Flu" that has hit the Seattle Police Department. In other words, there aren't enough police patrolling the streets to keep citizens safe. To make matters even more complicated, the murdered woman, Maria Sanchez, was, herself, a police officer.
The manner of her death suggests there may be a serial killer on the loose, which promises and produces some very bad publicity in the media, because an increasing number of uniformed police officers are on strike or, at any rate, are not reporting for duty. The Mayor and other officials are not pleased. There are pressures on the new Homicide Lieutenant from all sides to solve the case quickly.
Boldt is not known, however, to be a fast worker. A part of Boldt's appeal as a character, and as a police officer, is his integrity. He has his methods, they are thorough, and he sticks to them. For example, there's Boldt's law of investigation: "Listen to the victim and chase the evidence." Listening to the victim takes a while, especially when there's more than one, and their deaths are so peculiar --- he needs help, and that's where Matthews comes in to partner him this time.
Another part of his appeal, and Pearson's way of getting us involved and turning those pages every single time, is that Lou Boldt is in a sense Everyman. (Using "man" to mean "human being," therefore to include females --- who, by the way, constitute a very high percentage of thriller readers.) His big problem with his promotion to Lieutenant is that he has to wear a suit, and he'd rather not be one of "the suits." He wants to be out there in uniform, in the field where the action is, not stuck in the office taking phone calls and making assignments and delegating and dealing with the politics of the thing. He's a real policeman, dammit --- and so this Blue Flu thing hits him hard. His loyalties are divided: On the one hand he doesn't think it's justified, he believes the public should be protected no matter what; and on the other hand his natural tendency is to want to support "the uniforms," with whom he still identifies.
Another of Boldt's laws: "maintain objectivity." This proves particularly hard, and becomes ever harder as the plot moves along.
The two elements, solve the crime of the possible serial killer and find out the real reason behind the Blue Flu, drive the storyline and become interwoven until Boldt and Daphne Matthews both become convinced that Sanchez was killed because of a cold case she was investigating, which in all likelihood had a relationship to the real reason for the outbreak of Blue Flu. So was Sanchez a copycat killing, or is there a serial killer wearing uniform and a badge and legally carrying a gun? Any way they look at it, with Maria it looks like cops killed a cop, and that's bad news indeed.
The climax of this book takes place literally "in the middle of nowhere," and it will knock your socks off, and probably the whole outfit you're wearing as well. There are times when its complexity slows the story down, and when some readers may wish Lou Boldt's personal problems would take more of a back seat, but hanging in there is more than worth it for the slam-bang ending.
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is another great book from an author whose thrillers are always highly satisfying.
Reviewed by Dianne Day on July 2, 2001