Dead Line

Posted by Jason Venter (August 02, 2016)

I only read "Dead Line" because I really like the author's series of "Good Thief" books, but the library didn't have the newest one on hand. In fact, though Chris Ewan has written several other books (including "Safe House," which supposedly is amazing), the only other work of his that the library had on the shelf was... this one.

The cover bills "Dead Line" as a thriller, and I suppose that's approximately accurate. The story begins as a man named Daniel Trent (who simply goes by "Trent" for basically the entire novel) is trailing and planning to abduct a wealthy man. He believes that man knows where to find Aimee, a beautiful young redhead who works with Trent in his hostage negotiation business and also happens to be engaged to marry him. She may also be dead now, and that possibility actually looks like the most likely scenario, so Trent figures he can get some answers and maybe kill a few people along the way if that's what it takes.

Trent is difficult to identify with right from the start, because he spends almost all of his time missing Aimee, who sounds just about perfect in the way that women in books like this one so often do. When he's not missing Aimee, Trent is lying to the people with whom he interacts, because that's the only way he believes he'll ever see his beloved fiance again... if she is even alive. It's difficult for me to care for a character who does little but lie and feel miserable, even though he's doing those things for roughly the right reasons.

The novel is divided into three chunks. I liked the second one the most, because the first one includes too many flashbacks that don't accomplish much and the third chunk is just plain ridiculous. It's filled with painful plot twists that I found difficult to believe, even though the narrative worked overtime to try and make them seem plausible. So by default, the second chunk was the best. That's not a recommendation, however, and it's not like someone is likely to read just the middle chunk of a book. The way to go is to read it all or to read none of it, and the closing scenes worked hard to make me wish I'd gone with the latter option.

In his other books, Ewan has proven a capable writer. His characters have been easy to love and the settings he has explored have been lovely. Here, the only main characters I liked were "the bad guys," but at least the story takes place in beautiful Marseilles. That meant I got to imagine some neat scenery on a few occasions, when the story wasn't confined to a rich man's compound or to Trent's apartment.

I'm actually at a loss as to what else to say about this book, because most of what I might add now runs the risk of diving into spoiler territory. My biggest gripes with the novel are due to the supercharged final 50 pages, which finally make the leap from crime drama to thriller but have the issues I alluded to previously. I guess I'll shut up now, then, except to say that I hope Ewan's other standalone novels are better than this one, and that he soon finds reason to return to the "Good Thief" series that he writes so very well. He's a much more talented writer than this particular book demonstrates.

Rating: 4/10

Jason Venter is a freelance blogger who spends most of his time writing about games and technology. Follow him on Twitter if you dare, at @jasonventer.

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