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Black Static

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The Late Review: Chasing the Dead

2nd Nov, 2022

Author: Peter Tennant

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Originally published in 2010, Chasing the Dead (Penguin pb) is the first book in a series featuring David Raker who, after the death of wife Derryn, has found a new career and use for his journalistic skills as a missing persons investigator. He is asked by a former colleague of his wife to trace her son Alex who went missing six years ago. Supposedly Alex died in a car crash, but Mary Towne is convinced she saw her son in the flesh just a short while ago. David's investigation leads him into a world where nobody is who they are supposed to be. At the end of the trail is an organisation with strong religious ties and an agenda it will do anything to protect, as David finds to his cost. But the real surprise is the identity of the mastermind behind the scheme and his reasons for what he does.

A journalist himself, author Tim Weaver has gone on to have a hugely successful career, with ten more volumes in this series and the acclaim of his peers. I begrudge nobody their success, not even authors whose work I personally dislike, but I admit there are occasions when I'm puzzled by that success, and Chasing the Dead is one of those occasions.

The idea of a missing persons investigator as a series lead is a good one, and by way of introducing the character I could have done with seeing Raker work his magic, demonstrating how he operates instead of giving us vague comments about his journalistic skills being transferable. The character is set up well, given some depth through the nature of his personal tragedy, and you can see how this leads him to accept Mary Towne's case against his better judgement.

After that though it all gets a bit iffy. Mostly the plot is moved along by having the bad guys move against David, when if they'd simply left him alone his investigation might have died off. At times he seems to miss the obvious, such as simply asking old timers at The Angel pub what happened to former landlady Evelyn instead of practically abducting new barmaid Jade. The concept of a religious organisation or cult giving people a second chance, whether they want it or not, is an interesting one and laden with possibility, but Weaver's use of the idea goes totally over the top. I suspect it would take a lot more funding than these people apparently have to keep everything under the radar (e.g. they can get criminal records altered) and working smoothly. I was also not taken with the level of violence, with people tortured in some farcical parody of Christ's crucifixion. Why torture David when they have already decided to kill him? And the amount of suffering he undergoes and yet still manages to pull through against much more hardy and professional attackers pushed credibility. Much of this book felt like violence and absurd plot twists just for the sake of it.

On the plus side, it's fast paced and a couple of the villains are 'appealing' monsters - Andrew with his strange views on religion and the sinister enforcer Legion. They are exceptions though and the nature of the evil genius at the back of it all, and the way in which his operation is funded, bordered on the preposterous. To paraphrase religious terminology, readers are required to strain a gnat and swallow a camel. While another character, to my mind at least, needs to be monumentally stupid to act as he does. Readers of reviews are as contrary as those who write them, so in case any of you decide you still want to read this book, I shan't elaborate further on what I consider its shortcomings for fear of plot spoilers. When I checked audience reaction on Amazon it was overwhelmingly favourable, but at least one of the few negative voices advised seeking out later books in the series as they were much better, so if you are tempted by the concept of a missing persons investigator as a hero then perhaps that's the route to take.

 

 

 

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