My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"You could stay in one place all day, from dawn to dusk - Zabriskie Point, say, or the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells - and with each ten-degree rise and fall of the sun, the colors of rocks and sand hills changed from dark rose to burnished gold, from chocolate brown to indigo and gray-black, with a spectrum of subtler shades in between."
Bill Pronzini, winner of a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, is mostly known for his "Nameless Detective" series. The Other Side of Silence (2008) is a non-series book, classified on the cover as "a novel of suspense." I find it a good read, if not remarkable. The clichéd plot and uninspired writing are balanced by the choice of Death Valley, one of the most magnificent places on Earth, as the locale of a significant portion of the plot.
Rick Fallon, an ex-Army MP and a security specialist, spends vacations in his beloved Death Valley, far from the noise and madness of civilization. His wife left him after their little son had died in an accident. Traveling in the Warm Springs Canyon area he turns off the main road and in a secluded canyon comes across an empty passenger car. In the car there is a woman's suicide note, which mentions her missing son. Mr. Fallon locates the woman, close to death, and thanks to his military experience saves her life. It appears that her ex-husband kidnapped their son and his accomplice assaulted and raped her. Mr. Fallon, thinking about his dead son, decides to help the woman find her child.
The case gets much more complicated and a murder occurs. The pursuit of the boy's captor takes Mr. Fallon from Death Valley to Las Vegas, then to Laughlin, San Diego, and finally Indio. A dramatic ending brings a major plot twist. Yet for me the locales of the plot are the most interesting aspect of the novel: my family and I have lived in San Diego for 35 years, and Death Valley is one of our most favorite locations: it is the place where we used to camp each spring for many, many years. The author manages to convey the sense of locations that I know so well.
While the events happen fast the story is structured along predictable patterns and the reader will certainly anticipate some plot turns. One can find many cliché passages like:
"The explosion rocked them both. Shock is one of the hardest things to fake; the open mouths and staring eyes were genuine."(How does the author know that they were genuine?) One will also find inexplicably numerous references to powerful Carl Zeiss 7X50 binoculars. I wonder why the website address where to buy the product is not provided. On the other hand, the beautiful cover picture showing the desolate yet magnificent stretch of California Highway 127 is worth mentioning.
A good read despite clichés and commercials.
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