Thursday, April 29, 2010

Death Spiral by James W. Nichol

Reviewed for Edwards Magazine Bookclub

James W. Nichol, Canadian author and playwright, has given us a well-written, complicated murder mystery/thriller. Beginning with the protagonist Canadian pilot Wilf McLaughlin during WWII, under heavy fire and toward the end of the war, begins his death spiral as his Spitfire speeds to meet the earth the hard way. "I'm dead" is one of his last thoughts.

But death did not claim him. His plane is found days later with him still in it. His injuries are very serious but he is still alive. After several months in hospital, he returns home to a hero's welcome, but his head full of questions. With one useless arm, and a damaged leg as his main physical problems, there is much more going on in regard to his crash, not the least of which is several days of unaccounted for time, and unexplained blindness for 3 months.

Starting out working in his father's law office, reconnecting with his old friend Andy who is in the police force, and gradually connecting with Carol, his father's secretary, life begins again, but he suddenly finds himself in another type of death spiral. Several deaths in a small town raise eyebrows and awareness and when Wilf seems to be involved in one way or another, whispers around town begin. The deaths all appear to have happened since he came home.

The author has concocted a number of unusual deaths that appear to be unrelated and in some cases appear to be natural causes or accidents. But Wilf will not accept these quick decisions and is sure that they are all related and are in fact, murders. He convinces Andy to help him investigate "unofficially", help that causes Andy a demotion, devastating for a family man.

At the same time, he is trying to acquire his records to find out about his missing time and the mystery of his blindness, falls in love, and does not realize his loved one is already in danger. His father is studying files on the gas chambers and human experiments, which brings Wilf some confusing bits of memories pushing him even harder for answers. Answers he will come to realize he doesn't really want to know.

This book delves into many psychological and philosophical areas, dark places, and bizarre events, interspersed with the humor of friendships. Still, it is an easy book to read, holds the reader's attention, and reminds those of us who can remember, of the terrible crimes of war.

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