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Sunday 8 August 2021

No Witnesses - Book review

Ridley Pearson’s 1994 thriller No Witnesses doesn’t disappoint. I’ve yet to encounter one of his books that doesn’t deliver.

Homicide detective sergeant Lou Boldt is approached by an old associate, the police department’s forensic psychologist, Daphne Matthews. Her boyfriend Owen Adler is a multi-millionaire in the food supply business. Adler has been receiving threatening faxes full of hate. He has been told not to go to the police. So Daphne wants Boldt to investigate clandestinely.

The threats turn out to be real and deadly, starting with a supermarket tin of soup at one of the Adler supermarkets; one victims dies from poisoning, the other is seriously ill.

So begins a cat-and-mouse case, where the clues are small and frustrating; but fortunately Boldt is meticulous and no small detail is overlooked.

Several aspects of this police procedural set it above many of its contemporaries, the humanity, the detail, the pace and the insider knowledge. 

Boldt is businesslike but humane, despite the lowlifes he has to contend with:

‘Any homicide cop felt the pain and suffering of the victims and their relatives – no matter how callous to the crime scenes he or she became, no matter how quick the one-liners, and how easy it was to move on to another case. The tragedy of the Crowley family had deeply affected everyone…’ (p338).

And then there’s the suspense. Pearson has the enviable knack of ratcheting up the tension in more than one encounter. You’re there, you can feel the threat, the anxiety. Daphne, Adler and his daughter are in jeopardy; and Boldt is convinced there’s somebody in the department aiding the deranged blackmailer.

There’s humour, inevitably, some of it dark. One instance: They want to track down the withdrawals of the ransom money – it’s being done via the city’s ATMs, a few thousand dollars at a time. The bank boss, Lucille confronts a technician, Ted Perch, asking for his help. ‘… Perch looked a little hurt. She knew more than he did, and he did not like that. And if he tried to look up her skirt one more time, Boldt was going to say something about it…’ Later, after technical talk with Boldt, ‘Lucille recrossed her legs and Perch didn’t even notice. That was when Boldt knew he had him.’ (p160) Had Perch hooked, in fact.

It’s  a little out-dated now, due to the advances of technology, but that doesn’t spoil the tale at all. You’re there, in 1994, sweating it out with other cops in Seattle.

Oh, and there’s a neat twist near the satisfying end, too.

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