I just moved Joel Goldman to my A-list of authors. Always a
solid journeyman, Goldman introduced Jack Davis in 2008’s
SHAKEDOWN and took his work to an entirely new level. THE DEAD MAN
features the welcome return of Davis and seals the deal with an
expertly crafted mystery that will keep you reading without a break
from start to finish.
Davis is a former FBI agent who was forced to leave the bureau
due to an enigmatic neurological disorder. He himself refers to it
as “tics”; it manifests itself as an uncontrollable,
often violent twitching that also interferes with his speech, an
unfortunate combination of Tourette’s Syndrome and Spastic
Torticollis. There is little he can do to control it, other than
attempt to keep his physical exertions and mental stress to a
minimum. Davis, however, is more action-oriented than that. Though
the unpredictability of his condition impacts adversely on his
physical reliability, he refuses to live out his days in a
room. When he is given the opportunity to work as a security
consultant for a research institute, the job seems like a godsend.
At least at first.
Davis’s new employer is the Harper Institute of the Mind,
better known as HIM. HIM is on the cutting edge of dream research,
seeking ways to evaluate, control and use dream activity. The
deaths of two of HIM’s test subjects --- one an apparent
accident, the other an apparent suicide --- are somewhat bizarre in
that the circumstances of their deaths eerily coincide with the
respective dreams they reported and that were being studied.
Founder and CEO Milo Harper retains Davis to investigate the deaths
when HIM is threatened with a wrongful death action. A third death
occurs, however, before Davis can even get his investigation
underway, and circumstantial evidence not only seems to indicate he
is involved, but also brings his former employer into the mix.
Circumstances notwithstanding, the list of potential suspects
(other than Davis) seems to increase exponentially, even as the
number of victims continues to grow as well.
While THE DEAD MAN is a thriller in every sense of the word, it
is also a mystery in its purest form. Goldman drops an occasional
hint as to the murderer’s identity, but the suspects are
eliminated not so much as a result of Davis’s investigative
work as by foul play. At the same time, the novel is very much a
story about Davis. Goldman does an excellent job presenting Davis
and his condition, so that one empathizes with him rather than
feels sorry for him. Using Goldman’s home town of Kansas City
as a setting is an added (and subtle) bonus. His tour of the city
creates an interesting backdrop, one that makes this reader hope
for a return visit.
THE DEAD MAN is one of those rare novels you will be tempted to
read twice: the first time to enjoy, and the second to appreciate
how Goldman puts the pieces together. The hours spent on both will
be more than worth it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010