Fangs Out by David Freed
We need to start out by laying down a few criteria for deciding when a thriller is a success. For these purposes, we should recognise that genres are actually irrelevant. There’s no reason why thriller elements cannot underpin science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, and so on. All that’s required is either a single protagonist or a small group that finds itself under threat of attack. This may be with a view to capture the hero or group, or with more fatal consequences in mind. For our immediate purposes, we’re straddling the mystery, crime, adventure fences with vague spy and or military overtones because of the backstory. From this, you will understand we’re not dealing with an “ordinary” hero who earns reader sympathies by being an Everyman figure. Rather we have someone who’s had specialist training and must therefore win our sympathies by having a ready wit and, perhaps more importantly, dilemmas about whether to rescue his failed marriage. If in doubt, our hero should be tempted to stray but hold himself back on the off-chance his wife may return to his side (and bed).
In the classic thriller, our hero is outgunned, often threatened by a mysterious organisation making it difficult to know who to trust. In Fangs Out by David Freed (The Permanent Press, 2013) A Cordell Logan Mystery, the “enemy” is unknown. Our hero is given money to investigate and refute a dying declaration that the head of a US defence contractor corporation has been cooking the books and is a murderer. So when someone tries to kill our hero, it’s obvious there must be something to investigate, but it’s uncertain which of those he’s questioned might have attempted his murder. So we’re principally into mystery thriller adventure territory as our heroic pilot and ex-National Security agent struggles to stay alive and work out exactly who’s hiding what from whom.
We start off with the necessary trigger event. As he’s about to be executed for murder, the condemned man uses his chance at a few last words to reassert his innocence and names the man he says is responsible. We then move to the selection of our hero as the one chosen to solve the mystery. In this case, Cordell Logan guides a plane into a safe landing and, as a form of reward, is given the job of finding the evidence to show the right man was executed. This moves us into the “search” phase where our hero beats the grass to see how many snakes emerge (it’s an old Chinese proverb, often applied to combat situations). Naturally this brings him into contact with the love interest. In this case, there are two women who try to get him into bed and so break his emotional commitment to his ex-wife. As he beats the grass, key pieces of information come his way and, with determination and a little unofficial help from a certain national agency, he pieces the information together into a hypothesis. He should, of course, trust the cops with all this information but, by then, he’s in revenge mode because the attempt on his life also wrecked his beloved old aircraft. He therefore prefers to find the villain and discuss matters before the police arrive. Naturally, this all leads to a “happily ever after” resolution which confirms the essential fairytale subtext to all adventure stories, namely that our hero confirms his relationship with the love interest (until the next book in the series comes along, of course).
This is the second thriller I’ve read this month built around flying and, as a complete package, this is significantly better. Both the situation to investigate and the mechanics of midflight emergencies are beautifully captured here. Apart from the section where Logan and Dutch Holland fly off in an attempt to find Al Demaerschalk, Fangs Out is a fast-paced, lean plot which positively crackles with wit and invention.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.