THE BEST BAD DREAM marks the return of FBI agents Jack Harper and Oscar Hidalgo. The book defies an easy categorization, given that it walks a fine line between a mystery and thriller, but it also features comedic and (almost) absurd elements along with a story line that verges on the fantastic. This certainly is not a bad thing in Robert Ward’s hands.
"THE BEST BAD THING undoubtedly is escapist literature... an heir to the pulp fiction tradition of keeping the reader glued to the seat and to the book, turning pages from first to last."
The tale begins with Harper about to take some vacation time with Kevin, his teenage son. Their plans are interrupted, however, when Harper receives a call for help from Michelle Wu, his erstwhile and larcenous girlfriend. Michelle’s sister, Jennifer, has gone missing while the two were visiting an Indian village near Santa Fe, and Michelle is concerned that she might have met with foul play. Harper is reluctant to leave his son, but does owe Michelle for saving his life. And, when the dust settles and the smoke clears, Michelle is hot. Kevin finds himself thrown under the bus and loosely supervised by Harper’s father, Wade.
Harper finds that Santa Fe is a bit different. Michelle is involved in some sort of deal with a local biker and meth user; she insists that their activities are perfectly legal, but Harper is not convinced. There is also a nearby geriatric spa named the Blue Wolf where Jennifer was employed as a nurse. There’s some sort of animosity going on between the spa and the local bikers, but Harper has the nagging suspicion that not all is well with the spa, either. His partner, Hidalgo, is there to answer his call for help (and to provide a bit of comic relief as well). Together they follow a series of false trails and dead ends as they look for the missing Jennifer.
Jennifer is being held in a cell block of some sort with another woman for purposes that simply cannot be good. Harper and Michelle manage to get together, of course, and Harper is tempted from another source as well. But for the most part, he stays on task with his goal of finding Jennifer. There are a few other supporting characters in the mix as well, including a couple from Ohio whose marriage is almost on the rocks and a cowardly homicidal hustler who preys on the elderly and weak.
Meanwhile, young Mister Wade is up to his elbows in…well, he has discovered a way to ease the pain of being temporarily kicked to the curb by his dad. Let’s just say that he has a girlfriend, one who is giving him everything that a teenage boy dreams about. It is clear from the beginning that what Wade has found is too good to be true, but just what the truth is will be a total surprise. No, it’s not that. It’s even worse. Harper and Hidalgo continue to kick over investigative rocks on their way to the truth. When they find it, they not only have to save Jennifer, but also must get themselves out of the fire as well.
THE BEST BAD THING undoubtedly is escapist literature. Ward doesn’t take himself or his characters too seriously, and the reader shouldn’t either. That doesn’t prevent the novel from being tremendously entertaining, an heir to the pulp fiction tradition of keeping the reader glued to the seat and to the book, turning pages from first to last. Ward does this very well.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 11, 2012