A Good Howard County Sequel
I liked Dale E Lehman’s debut novel “The Fibonacci Murders”. For some reason though, I did not read the second book of the series “True Death” but went straight the task of reading and reviewing the newly written sequel, in collaboration with his wife Kathleen.
I believe that good sequels are measured if they manage to stand-alone as a book on their own. It’s a big issue in my view, if reading the first book is mandatory in order to understand the next. Albeit a hard task for an author no doubt, would you imagine needing to read nine of Agatha Christies’ superb Poirot novels before reaching the famous “Murder on the Orient Express” ? Not likely. I am pleased to report that in that aspect, the Lehman’s did not fall into a trap that many “sequeling” authors do. The book can be read as a stand-alone, and details from book II were easily filled. I did however thought that if someone read the book as a stand-alone he would have found Lieutenant Det. Rick Peller a bit timid, and over-fatherly. However, I’ll attribute it to him (Peller) simply playing a smaller role in this novel, and maybe just getting older, like most of us.
As always with Howard Country, there are few cases which seems at first not-connected, but interlink as the story draws near its end. Peller is working on an old two-year old case of a missing person; Detective Sgt. Montufar, now engaged in a hot & heavy relationship with Detective Sgt. Dumas, is trying to figure out a copycat arson event; and Dumas – who’s undeniably the main protagonist, is investigating a stone-cold murder of a hustler.
There are also subplots of Montufar’s father dying in the hospital and Peller getting involved with a socialite, both which I found completely redundant and not contributing to the plot (Dale Lehman would have to excuse me on this, as the hospital scenes are probably taken from some personal experience which he wanted to set-free).
The writing is precise as always, but sometimes too precise. It’s humouristic when the boys make wise-cracks for using high vocabulary words, but when the villains use them or an immigrant family, it somewhat hurts the overall flow.
I especially liked The Lehmans’ flirtation with the cold weather, reminding me a lot of my descriptive writing style which, on numerous occasions, was blamed to be throwing the reader off the main subject. I liked it, it gave the story a body.
My main criticism involves the story:
It is a similar problem to that which Mr Lehman had when he wrote solo “The Fibonacci Murders”. Basically, a lot of the details are revealed but the story kind of solves itself before they can serve as clues. The reader doesn’t really have a chance to reach any conclusion on his own, and one witness who could have easily given the story to begin with, if enough pressure had been applied, sings at the end, after we have already speculated what had accord. For me, it was a good story, portraying mundane police work, with likeable characters, but it lacked sophistication. The Howard County detectives came across as too naïve, and too trustworthy, but I liked them.
Another point is that I wasn’t quite sold on how the stories interlink, nor do I think that Peller and Montufar had contributed much to the cracking of the case.
The story redeems itself with a nice twist right at the end, although the way it was discovered and the entire charade seemed a bit messy. I’m not going to reveal anything here, but just as you think the novel reaches its end, The Lehmans’ give us a much-needed climax with a bursting action scene.
“Ice on the Bay” is a precise written novel, which shows the hard task of police detective work. The characters are likeable, the imagery is a pleasant surprise – but the story which is crucial, is somewhat lacking, for this die-hard crime thriller fan