Madman on a Drum, David Housewright, St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I'm absolutely amazed that David Housewright isn't a giant bestselling author. His books certainly read like bestsellers, and they go down as easily as anything Robert B. Parker or Harlan Coben (in Myron Bolitar mode) ever wrote. Since he's a bit of a well kept secret I have no problem pushing his books - in fact, it's delightful, as anyone who isn't a regular customer of mine usually hasn't heard of him, and once they read one, they're hooked. His latest outing is as good as anything he's written so far; I couldn't put it down, but unlike some other page turning thrillers, he also made me think about and remember his characters, no small feat when it's done by any author. His set up is a simple, white knight, straightforward P.I. arrangement, with the twist that his P.I., Rushmore "Mac" MacKenzie, has scored some major reward dough and doesn't need to earn money. So in fact, just like Spenser and Myron, he's able to do "what's right", he's just more straightforward about it. Sometimes the right thing to do hits him over the head, like it does in this book.
Mac's best friend is a cop, Bobby Dunston. Mac was in love with Bobby's wife; he loves their children, his goddaughters, like his own, and when Victoria Dunston is kidnaped on her way home from school, he's by the Dunston family's side in a nanosecond. While the storyline of the kidnap is rocket powered, Housewright is also expert at the analysis of the family's grief - though it doesn't feel like analysis. It's just good writing. As a reader, you instantly care about the characters and are completely invested in what happens to Victoria. As Mac - and Bobby, who has to do something, or go crazy - get to work on the case, they start to think that the kidnapper is someone from their shared past, but also someone who knows Mac has lots of money and is using Victoria to get it. Halfway through the book - I don't think I'm giving anything away - Victoria is recovered. The rest of the book is a top notch chase novel.
Mac finds out there's a high priced contract out on him and he goes undercover to find who is out to get him and to get whoever it is before they get him. When the alleged kidnapper is found murdered, Mac feels responsible - he thinks the entire incident ties into a grudge someone has against him. Maybe he's wrong and maybe he's right, but it gives the end of the novel, which is equally as rocket powered as the first half, a moral conundrum that will engage your brain as well as your heart. Maybe Housewright is underappreciated because he makes the whole thing look so easy. While his prose is easy and smooth neither is what I'd call the bare bones workmanlike style that some thriller writers use; it has a bit of elegance to it. This is a writer worth seeking out, and once found, worth sticking with. You'll be glad you did.
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