No Way Back, Rick Mofina

Pinnacle, 2003, 374 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-7860-1225-X

While I have generally enjoyed local writer Rick Mofina’s first three novels (If Angels Fall, Cold Fear and Blood of Others), I haven’t been shy to criticize protagonist Tom Reed’s complicated work/life balance as an overused plot device. It quickly gets worse in No Way Back: Barely forty pages in, Reed’s wife is kidnapped by Reed-hating criminals who just happened to recognize her during a bank heist.

At least this happens upfront. The rest of the novel is a lengthy chase in which Reed goes well beyond his job as a reporter to get his wife back. Series co-protagonist Walt Sydowski also returns, though there isn’t as much for him to do this time around. This is Reed’s show, and he gets one of the series’ best moment in Chapter 40, as he confronts (or is rather confronted by) a big-time drug dealer who may have information about the identity of his wife’s kidnapper.

Generally speaking, No Way Back is Mofina’s best book yet, mostly because he manages to milk an impressive amount of plot out of a very simple setup. The tension steadily ratchets upward, even as the body count accumulates and several false herrings are thrown to the reader. Mofina’s constant focus on journalism as an adjunct to police work is once again in full display. Here, “good” newspaper reporter Tom Reed is compared and contrasted to a “bad” tabloid show journalist, who stops at nothing to get exclusive footage she can sell at a profit. (Her porn-star-like name is no accident; as is wont with that type of one-note antagonist, her previous activities include nothing less than Thai pornography. Naughty, girl, naughty!)

[April-May 2008: From the “reality inspired by fiction” department, it turns out (looking at my web referer logs) that there is now a small-time blonde porn model named like the tabloid show antagonist of the novel. Since I like to keep a clean site, I have scrubbed the name of said antagonist for this review. Invert “enyaL aiT” and Google it up, if you’re curious.]

I was rather less impressed at the peculiar nature of memory so common in serial mystery fiction. As usual, Tom Reed can’t seem to remember that bad stuff always happen to him or his family. He can’t seem to be able to comfort his son by saying “look, champ, three books ago you were kidnapped by a crazy criminal and I still saved you in the nick of time, right?” In doing so and ignoring entire portions of his previous volumes, Mofina tries to have it both ways: All the attachement of recurring characters without any of the complications associated with such re-use. I understand the commercial necessity of developing series to pre-sell a struggling author’s next volume, but I would rather see a “same universe” sequence over a “same protagonist” series where events have to be conveniently forgotten like that. Cold Fear took a step in the right direction by re-using Reed and Sydowski in extended cameos. One would hope that future books will be similar in construction.

Because, oh yes, there will be other books, I’m sure of it. Other novels that I’ll end up reading. There is a compelling quality to Mofina’s stories that is good enough even as it is, and if No Way Back is any indication, he’s steadily improving the quality and sustainability of his suspense. The next volume is announced for 2004: Let’s see what’s next.

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