Voodoo Ridge by David Freed
For reasons not relevant to this review, I’ve been spending time recently thinking about the different ways in which people view the world. One of the most common questions that seems to emerge is the extent to which there is any equity, fairness or justice in society. In societies which claim to be more democratic than not, there are certain expectations about equality of access to basic services and protections for “human rights”. Sadly such expectations rarely play out in the real world where increasingly severe income disparities mean differential access to services can be bought by the wealthy and the legal system can be manipulated for the benefit of those with power. For many have-nots, this can mean life is brutish and short. Except this is not what we see in the average book. Authors sugarcoat the pill. Even though dystopian fiction is popular in the YA market, the vast majority of fiction titles have feel-good intentions. They pander to a section of the market that wants to feel inspired by protagonists who prevail against the odds or find redemption in some way. It’s the “happy ever after” syndrome. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Bringing realism into fiction tends to produce a darker tone and more depressing outcomes. Not everyone wants to be reminded how awful life can be for the less fortunate.
Voodoo Ridge by David Freed (The Permanent Press, 2014) finds our hero, Cordell Logan, in an emotionally equivocal state. In the back story, his wife left him for a colleague. In the last book, that colleague was killed and she asked her ex to find out who did it. In the reunion under difficult circumstances, a spark was briefly kindled. The result was an announcement of pregnancy. Neither side had thought they were still fertile (age can often deceive the unwary) so no precautions were taken. Now they have to confront the new reality. Somewhat improbably, they decide to remarry. Such are the mistakes people make when emotions are running high. This persuades them to fly up to South Lake Tahoe for a snap wedding — all the advantages of Las Vegas but without the temptation to gamble (not that remarriage is anything but a gamble). As they approach the small airport, our hero spots what could be the wreckage of a plane. As a concerned citizen, he reports the sighting when he lands. This news is greeted with some degree of incredulity. No planes have been reported lost or missing in recent times. Nevertheless, he persists in his assertion, pointing adamantly to a spot on a high-definition map.
Of course he ends up guiding the police to the place he saw as he flew in. He’s frustrated by the general air of scepticism and his natural sense of duty kicks in. That this means postponing the wedding is not a major consideration in his mind. The love between the couple seems to have returned but not the romance. To him, the symbolism of a marriage ceremony to confirm the resumption of love as usual can be fitted in when it’s convenient — a typically male-centric point of view. When they find the plane, it turns out to be “old”. The dead body of one of the people from the airport who had heard the initial report is the first complication. The second complication comes when the FAA declares all information about the plane classified. Why would a plane lost in 1956 still be subject to an official secrets ruling? None of this should immediately set alarm bells ringing. There’s no need for Cordell to increase his level of vigilance. That way lies paranoia and, as a Buddhist, he’s committed to seeing the good in people and the surrounding situation.
Of course all this traipsing around the landscape and Cordell’s involvement in the investigation is not appreciated by his bride-to-be who spends the day moping about in the cold of the town. To make things worse, the sheriff’s deputy calls Cordell out of the boutique hotel at the crack of dawn the next day. Perhaps Cordell should not be surprised his intended is not in evidence when he returns. Except this doesn’t feel right. She hasn’t gone out: both her jogging and the ordinary clothes she would have worn outdoors are still in the room. Later his cellphone rings. It’s not good news.
This is the start of an economically told thriller which makes the simplicity of a linear plot a delight to watch. The tension is skillfully maintained as we watch Cordell’s sense of duty collide with his love for his ex-wife. Needless to say, there can only be one outcome. My delight in Voodoo Ridge is not saying I want all my books to be grim, but there does come a point when the endless sunlight of modern fiction becomes tiring and a healthy dose of reality is appreciated. If you enjoy thrillers with a darker edge, this is a superb example of the form and you should snap it up.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.