Review

Side by Side

by John Ramsey Miller



Let me make it official: it is once again fun to hunt through the
paperback racks. There are suddenly a great number of original
paperback novels to be found, purchased, and read. One of the
leaders of this charge is John Ramsey Miller, whose Winter Massey
books have been appearing with welcome frequency over the past
several months. Fortunately, for both his character and prospective
readers, Miller's quantity is matched by his quality; his
characters evolve and grow with each novel, as do their situations,
so there is no mistaking one Massey work of fiction for
another.

SIDE BY SIDE is the third of these novels; as with its
predecessors, UPSIDE DOWN and INSIDE OUT, SIDE BY SIDE is a
stand-alone work that does not require familiarity with the
characters for full enjoyment. It is sufficient to know at this
stage that Massey is a retired U.S. Marshal who is looking forward
to a long stretch of nothing, relaxing with his wife and their
infant daughter.

Massey is reluctantly brought back into the life when longtime
friend and FBI agent Alexa Keen suddenly appears on his doorstep,
asking for his assistance with an off-the-books mission. The
mission, literally, is a life-or-death one. Lucy Dockery and Eli,
her infant son, have been kidnapped and are being used as pawns in
a murder trial. Lucy's father, federal judge Hailey Fondren, is
presiding over the trial of Hunter Bryce, a clandestine arms dealer
who is accused of murdering a federal agent.  Fondren's choice
is simple: find Bryce not guilty, and Fondren's daughter and
grandson will be released. Of course, it's not really that simple,
as the bad guys plan to murder Fondren and the Dockerys. The
kidnappers are the Smoots, a family with deep-rooted membership in
the Dixie Mafia who are as dangerous and ruthless as any adversary
Massey has ever encountered.

Massey is an expert in the way the world works and is willing to do
whatever it takes to save innocent lives. He accordingly is
somewhat puzzled when Keen, a longtime friend, seems to be
hamstringing him every step of the way. Worse, someone seems to
know Massey's every move, and as a result he finds that he is
always on the verge of walking into an ambush. Massey slowly comes
to release that he cannot trust the very people who are supposed to
be helping him and that he must rely totally on his instincts,
training, and experience to save not only the Dockerys, but also
himself.

Those who have read the first two Massey novels will note that SIDE
BY SIDE is a more localized work than its predecessors. It is set
against the backdrop of rural South Carolina, and the change in
scenery, as well as Massey's newfound retirement, gives his ability
to go it alone a chance to really shine. Miller has also created an
extremely interesting set of villains. The Smoot family,
collectively, is the perfect enemy, seemingly indestructible while
carrying the seeds of their potential defeat within them. Massey,
for his part, remains innovatively clever and as reluctantly
dangerous as ever, creating a subtle tension throughout the
novel.

As always Miller's narrative is first-rate. He spends the first
part of SIDE BY SIDE setting up his interesting, complex characters
in a straightforward plot line and then spends the last half of
this fine novel gleefully deconstructing things while keeping his
readers guessing until the very end. And if you're hooked on
Miller, like most readers who have encountered his work, never
fear: more is on the way.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Side by Side
by John Ramsey Miller

  • Publication Date: August 30, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Dell
  • ISBN-10: 0553583433
  • ISBN-13: 9780553583434