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Brief book reviews - Killer Weekend

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''Killer Weekend'' by Ridley Pearson; Putnam; 323 pages; $20.

What Tom Clancy is to the geopolitical thriller and Michael Crichton is to the science thriller, Ridley Pearson is to the crime thriller: a consistently dependable author to turn to anytime you're in the mood for a first-rate thriller novel.

Pearson, who back in 1990 became the first American to be awarded the Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellowship to Oxford University to study mystery writing, is a prolific producer of crime thrillers, including the highly acclaimed Lou Boldt-Daphne Matthews crime series.

This latest in Pearson's long string of best-sellers, the first work in a new series, has as its hero the competent, gutsy and highly likeable sheriff of the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho. Eight years earlier, while then a patrolman, Walt Fleming had saved the life of New York State's young woman attorney general when an attacker who hated her politics cornered her alone in her Sun Valley vacation home and was beginning to take a knife to her.

Now Elizabeth Shaler is back in Sun Valley at her vacation home, getting ready to attend one of those great gatherings of billionaires and business tycoons for which the town has come to be identified and at which it is widely known she will officially declare her candidacy for the presidency of the United States.

Her one-time rescuer Walt Fleming is now the county sheriff and, once again, Elizabeth Shaler faces great danger because now an extraordinarily cunning hired assassin wants to end her candidacy before it gets off the ground. It's the local sheriff who takes the danger most seriously, who links another crime in another city to evidence that the assassin is in their midst. He figures out the clever deception the assassin has been carrying off and is who, in the end and against all odds, is most likely to prevent the assassination and brings the hired killer and his employer to justice in spite of the blunders of all others, including the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service.

Pearson is a master at crafting a suspenseful plot and taking you through twists and turns that keep you guessing and make you anxious to find out what surprise lies just ahead. His prose is crisp and in this book the technique of rolling along short chapters from the viewpoint of alternating characters makes for a real page-turner.

"Killer Weekend" is a good read - but whereas his great work "Parallel Lies" left me feeling it would have been hard to improve upon, this one left me wondering why the author, or his editors, failed to fine-tune it.

Why, for example, have the Secret Service protecting someone who is just thinking of running for president. They don't do that. And they don't even protect presidential candidates from the day they declare, as a matter of policy. Saying that the party leader thought it would be nice doesn't cut it.

The would-be assassin's ability to move so easily in the midst of such a tight security might have seemed plausible, given Pearson's writing skills, had that security been limited to the formable array of the FBI, the local police and the high-powered security forces of the billionaires, but adding a Secret Service force that would never have been present in real life is too much.

And why, so unnecessarily, inject a plot complication of a blind man's losing his guide dog because the airline taking him to Sun Valley made him check the dog as baggage, killing it in the process. Say what you want about their baggage handling, but airlines do not make it a practice to take dogs away from the blind and toss them where they might die during the flight. Wouldn't take much research to find that out.

Why pick the name of your friend the real sheriff in that area of Idaho if you are going to portray his wife and father as such miserable people and then explain in an acknowledgments page that the real life ones are fine folks?

And, of course, why make your targeted candidate a well-known female who holds office in New York State?

That these flaws - and others, such as minuscule development of characters other than the sheriff - do not keep "Killer Weekend" from being a good read is a tribute to Pearson's great talent, but they keep it from matching other Pearson thrillers.

If you've read other Ridley Pearson mystery thrillers, you will probably like this one. If you haven't, check out his "Parallel Lies" first.

Fred J. Eckert is a frequent contributor of book reviews and other works for Copley News Service.
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