Reviewed from ebook version
This book starts off with a bang, a car crash that is an obvious deliberate hit sending the car flying and landing in a field. Quick action is needed for the driver and Drake to escape before the car blows up, but both are groggy. The car is seriously damaged with doors jammed. Drake suddenly notices that the driver is now next to him in the back seat, semi-conscious and must get him out. The only way out is the broken rear window. Pushing the driver out head-first with great effort, he gets the driver fully through when he rolls off the truncated trunk, followed by Drake. With supreme effort Drake drags the driver away, narrowly escaping the fireball as the car blew up, just on the edge of safety where they feel the heat but are not endangered more.
Strangely, as memory reinstates itself, he recalls the driver of the truck suddenly hesitated, backed off just at impact so the crash was not as hard as it would have been, as though it was not meant to kill anyone. What a start to a book about a marathon, a foot race Drake is scheduled to start running the next day! And as we will soon learn, the sponsor will insist he run this race, even providing chiropractic sessions. Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Who would be looking for Drake at this late date of 1969? Though his past was covert, it was a long time ago and he can't make any sense of who might want him dead. The marathon is invitation only, and as he meets with the sponsors from Giganticorp, he learns that the driver's expenses will be taken care of and Drake himself has already been patched up as much as possible with a very colourful face and broken nose. It is at this point he learns that his old partner Melody Jefferson from his undercover agent days is his running partner. Suspicion looms as he thinks about the possible reasons for this. Who would even know about that partnership? Why is it so important that Giganticorp insists on Drake running the marathon in his condition? The whole idea is crazy and someone obviously knows too much confidential information!
I found Alan Cook's technique for each chapter very interesting as a background for the race. Each chapter is another day in the race and begins with the marathon runners, competing in pairs, given very descriptive daily directions for the route. As a Canadian recognizing some of the routes from driving vacations in California in 1959 and 1961, I really enjoyed these tantalizing chapter settings. Soon the iceberg goes deeper when a sudden attack from the ocean onto the beach results in one runner dead, one injured and several homes destroyed.
The daily route and the pacing of the runners provides interest and background to the story, but at what price? Outside threats are keeping Drake and Melody in the race. There seems to be a political agenda to this oddly fast-paced yet sometimes calm story, but is that what it really is? This book was definitely different in its storyline and layout, with as many hills and troughs as throughout the run of the marathon. Thwarted romance, misguided alliances, and a deliberate political red-herring makes for a well-written attention-getting novel, leading right up to a unique ending to one man's tyranny. Alan Cook is a diverse author and has written several novels, two of them winning the American Author's Association Silver Quill Award and chosen as Best Pacific West Book by Reader Views.