From: James R. Winter ( winter_writes@earthlink.net)
Date: 18 Jul 2005

Ben Perkins is a working class joe who's doing a little better than the average working class joe. That's because he manages Norwegian Wood, a pricey apartment complex in suburban Detroit, and supplements his income as a private investigator. And he has friends in high places, too. Like The Judge, a state supreme court justice with ties to his old law firm. And his old law firm represents a reclusive disc jockey named Alex Farr. Alex is suspected of the rape and murder of 3 women in the Detroit area. Upon meeting Farr, it becomes obvious that isn't possible. Farr is a severe agoraphobe, going to work every night in a van driven by his handyman, working in a studio no one else can use at the station, and ordering everything through catalogues. Alex Farr is a prophet, foretelling the coming of Amazon and eBay.

It becomes clear that someone is framing Farr, and in the days before e-commerce, when telemarketers took down your Visa number to pay for your latest Ron Popeil gadget, there was probably MORE opportunity for identity theft.

While the technology in the book is dated (Perkins' cell phone, an expensive novelty in the first two books, is barely in evidence here), the themes and situtations most certainly are not. The book would do well written today, although I did find references to Roger Daltrey's solo album (He did a solo album? Yes, kids, and I have a copy of it bought when "After the Fire" was in heavy rotation.) and Stevie Nicks were amusing. I probably wouldn't recognize half the bands a newer writer might mention.

One of these is the media and how it goes after a high-profile murder case like soccer moms in a death struggle over the last copy of the new Harry Potter at Borders. Karen Cash is either a wonderful female sidekick or a femme fatale, and Kantner doesn't let us in on it until the end. Phil Paros, the state homicide dick who's already tried, convicted, and executed Farr, is a media whore who's not above a little police brutality. The other thing that struck me was the theme of identity theft. The book has a 1988 copyright, so ID theft wasn't nearly as pervasive as it is now. However, it's not only central to the story, it also forms one of the subplots (There are several), the son of one of Perkins' suspects who kills his parents to collect on dad's Social Security payments and investment income. When it debuted, DIRTY WORK must have been shocking. Now it's about an all-too-common problem.

I'm torn between which of the three Perkins I've read so far is the best. I'm inclined to say THE BACKDOOR MAN because it seemed so fresh and new. However, I tend to believe it's DIRTY WORK. Perkins is fleshed out nicely in this one, and the plot is the most complex of the three books. Definitely recommended.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 18 Jul 2005 EDT