Grant Rosenberg’s new crime thriller, second in a trilogy, is the very definition of a book opening in medias res – in the middle of things or, as my writing coach used to say, ‘pot already boiling.’ You are not at a disadvantage if you haven’t read Gideon, the first book, because the author makes sure to catch you up on what happened there. If you have read it, all this rehash might be a tad tiresome, but Rosenberg cleverly shakes things up by repeating some of the background information within a newly available diary written by one of the previous book’s main characters, now deceased.
Dr Kelly Harper and her late father, diarist Dr David Harper, are local heroes to the impoverished citizens of the San Francisco neighbourhood where they run an urgent care clinic. And the needs of these residents are diverse as well as urgent. When David is murdered in book one, his lawyer, Matthew Benedetto, tells Kelly a difficult truth: her father led a double life. He served as a shadowy hit man named Gideon, whose targets were among society’s most depraved individuals. Benedetto further says that a local drug dealer was her father’s likely killer. Convinced of the drug dealer’s guilt, and much against her own ethics, Kelly takes on her father’s mantle of avenging angel and dispatches the killers. Now we come to book two.
Kelly’s boyfriend, a SFPD detective investigating the drug dealer’s death, seems on track to discover Kelly’s involvement. Meanwhile, the mysterious Benedetto outlines another case for Kelly. He says that a mother has killed two of her children and might do so again. This is the kind of situation that would have certainly impelled her father to act. But should she?
Reading her father’s diary, Kelly learns why he did the things he did, but is his reasoning strong enough for her? The notion of a vigilante assassin – who kills when the justice system fails – is familiar from television series like Dexter and books like Reed Farrel Coleman’s recent Sleepless City. They reflect society’s frustration when apparently guilty people somehow escape punishment. But it’s a classic slippery slope situation, as Kelly finds out.
Grant Rosenberg’s previous career was in writing and producing television shows, which influences his novel-writing. The three-part story mimics a television series, in which each episode provides enough interest and drama to carry viewers through to the next. Whether this is a plus or a minus for you will depend on how much you like that format. I don’t mind it in television, but I needed to reset my expectations here, realising that the main story questions are not going to be answered in this book, but must await the trilogy’s conclusion. Still, this isn’t a let-down. Gideon Resurrection feels like good read and I enjoyed the challenge of figuring out my own solutions to those questions. Time will tell whether I guessed right or not!
Rosenberg does a good job of creating characters you can root for. Kelly, obviously, is a high-minded woman beset with difficulties beyond the dangerous fallout from her father’s pastime. The clinic is in financial trouble, one of the doctors is popping pills, the stream of patients is endless and a serious form of meningitis has begun to rampage through the city. One of her own doctors succeeds in discovering the point source for the infections through epidemiological insight.
Lots of interesting issues appear in these pages, and it’s always fun to read a story set in San Francisco, a beautiful city many Americans feel warmly toward, even though its present social disarray makes it a place to treasure more in memory than current reality.
One other area where you’ll see glimpses of Rosenberg’s television background is in the dialogue. He sometimes lapses into cliché, which may pass muster when actors are delivering their lines, because they can vary the emphasis, add body language, stimulate reactions from other players, and so on. On the page, though, this can come out a bit flat. Maybe I’m wrong, but occasionally Rosenberg seems to go on autopilot, and his writing suffers for it.
Yet, if you like an exciting adventure with strong characters and don’t mind waiting until book three to discover how it all turns out, you may really enjoy Gideon Resurrection.
Also see The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo.
Golden Gate Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars
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