Pinnacle, 2004, 344 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-7860-1526-8
I’ve been following the career of local Ottawa-based mystery writer Rick Mofina with some interest, even despite my occasional reservations about the way he re-uses and overuses elements of his continuing series. As I mentioned in my review of his previous novel No Way Back, protagonist Tom Ridge has had members of his family kidnapped or threatened roughly once per book so far, and it was a fair question to ask whether Mofina could free himself from one of the cheapest thrills in the genre.
If nothing else, Be Mine shows that Mofina is capable of playing creatively in his own sandbox. While firmly set in the established universe of Mofina’s series, Be Mine has the good sense to focus on other things: The result is, despite a number of mis-steps, closer to what feels like a reasonable thriller as much as it’s a murder mystery.
While series protagonists Tom Reed (journalist) and Walt Sydowski (policeman) are in no immediate danger this time around, one can’t say the same about Tom’s colleague Molly Wilson. Molly, a supporting series character here getting a starring turn, is devastated when she learns that her cop boyfriend has been found dead, possibly murdered. Could this possibly be the work of a desperate stalker trying to kill any possible competition for her affection?
Of course it is. The only questions worth asking in this type of thriller are Who? and How long before he strikes again?
Quickly, efficiently, Mofina cranks up the tension. His real-life experience in newsrooms serves him well when comes the time to show how the media reacts to a crisis, especially when one of their own is concerned. As with the series’ previous novels, editorial conflicts, procedural details and deadline imperatives all add to the verisimilitude of the book and give a different spin to the usual police thriller. Tom Reed is once more on the case, and everyone will be overjoyed to learn that neither he or his family even come close to being kidnapped during the course of this adventure.
The prose is brisk and transparent, delivering the kind of efficient reading experience that Mofina fans have come to expect from the author. This is a classic paperback thriller, fit to entertain on the bus and be read in not much more than an afternoon.
Which isn’t to say that the book doesn’t have its occasional weaknesses. The identity of the killer (after multiple red herrings and a narration that pretty much lies to us), is a real let-down, completely ludicrous yet easily deducible by experienced genre readers. (For the second time this month, I found myself muttering “Don’t do that, don’t go there, don’t make this guy the real killer” as I was nearing the end of a book.) It’s fortunate that there’s more to mysteries than a simple revelation of the killer’s identity, because that “No! It’s him!” shtick is getting seriously old. (What happened to real procedurals? Eh, don’t answer that.)
Among other minor let-downs, I note a weak resolution to this book’s bit of newsroom infighting, almost as if Mofina was reaching the degree of diminishing returns with his series of Bad Editors. Then there’s the book’s last-minute slide from murder mystery to action thriller, in an explosive finale that feels disconnected from the rest of the novel. Maybe it’s time for Mofina to commit himself to a full-fledged action thriller from start to finish?
But all in all, it’s hard to be disappointed: After five books, Mofina fans know what they’re going to get with every book. While annoying, Be Mine is generally as enjoyable as Mofina’s previous novels and avoids many of the pitfalls that plagued his last few books. While I remain convinced that the Reed/Skydowski protagonists are played out as dramatic leads, Be Mine is fair in how it uses their particular skills in service of someone else’s story. I remain hopeful that Mofina will next tackle a different set of characters (Indeed, The Dying Hour seems to feature new protagonists) and maybe step up the ambition of his projects, but Be Mine is a solid entry that should satisfy his fans.