It's always exciting to pick up a novel by an author who started
off with great work and who keeps getting better with each new
book. Jim Born fits that description. ESCAPE CLAUSE, his third
novel featuring Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agent
Bill Tasker, is easily his best, not an easy mark to reach
considering the high quality of WALKING MONEY and SHOCK WAVE, his
first two novels.
Tasker is, it would seem, a natural creation for Born, given Born's
FDLE status as a special agent, his former membership of the FDLE
special-ops team, and his duty as a DEA agent and as a deputy U.S.
Marshal. Born's background, however, constitutes only half of the
equation, which results in the addictive nature of his novels.
Along with his real-world background, Born can write.
While reading ESCAPE CLAUSE, one gets the feeling that they are not
so much turning pages as looking at scenes unfurl across a canvas,
or, better yet, watching the private screening of a riveting film.
Born infuses a real-world setting into his narrative, eschewing
dramatic exaggeration and concentrating on the believability of his
characters to move his story along. Tasker accordingly is a
likable, not perfect guy, smart but not brilliant, tough but not
indestructible. He has real-world domestic problems as a single
dad, which he resolves well if not perfectly. Tasker is also a bit
of a babe-magnet, but they aren't falling into his bed within an
hour of meeting him. And when he shoots someone, even in
self-defense, Tasker has the grace to feel bad about it.
When Tasker is involved in a shooting incident while breaking up a
bank robbery, his supervisor sends him on what is supposedly a
restful assignment: investigating what appears to be an inmate
homicide at the ill-named Manatee Correctional Facility. Born,
while introducing Tasker into Manatee, subtly makes the facility a
secondary character in ESCAPE CLAUSE, and a realistic one. The
prison is not a hell hole, though it is certainly not one in which
you would choose to spend an evening. And, it seems, there is as
much to fear from the administration of the facility as there is
from the inmates.
It becomes clear that at least some guards --- from the bottom on
up --- are trying to stymie Tasker's investigation, if not scare
him off entirely. The resistance, however, only causes Tasker to
dig in deeper, and when his next-door neighbor comes to harm,
Tasker begins to take the resistance personally. His biggest
problem though is finding someone he can trust --- his list keeps
getting shorter, even as the methods used to stymie his
investigation become more and more deadly. Events reach a
cataclysmic and ultimately ironic end, from which Tasker learns who
his friends, and enemies, truly are.
Born is nothing less than a marvel, a writer who in the short space
of a few novels has made a multitude of must-read lists. And,
speaking of must-reads, ESCAPE CLAUSE sets up a possible plot line
for the next Tasker novel, which hopefully we will see sooner
rather than later. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011