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Onyx reviews: Parallel Lies by Ridley Pearson

Like many of his contemporaries, Ridley Pearson is venturing outside the comfort zone of his regular series character, Lou Boldt, with a standalone novel. Pearson has chosen to walk a difficult line with this suspense thriller, Parallel Lies. Not only must he create a sympathetic protagonist, his plot demands that the reader empathize with the 'villain,' a vigilante saboteur.

Peter Tyler, a cop who lost his badge after severely beating a black man he was arresting, is called in by a friend to help the NTSB investigate a series of train accidents. Until now, the incidents have not caused any loss of life. A bloody murder in a freight car changes all that. Tyler, on the verge of losing his house, desperately needs this job.

Umberto Alvarez lost more than his job—the former science teacher lost his wife and daughters when a train struck his wife's car at a level crossing. Preliminary indications were that the crossing signals had malfunctioned, but evidence inexplicably went missing and the railroad company, Northern Union, prevailed. Alvarez's wife was blamed for the fatal accident, the railroad cleared of all responsibility.

The suspicious death of Alvarez's lawyer sends him underground. Using his scientific knowledge, he launches a series of attacks on the railroad. His vendetta against the cover-up is escalating toward a confrontation with the experimental FAST, a bullet train soon to have its inaugural journey between New York and Washington, DC

As Tyler begins to put the story together, the conspiracy widens to embrace him. While attempting to question a crossing guard on duty the day Alvarez's family was killed, Tyler arrives to find the man beaten to death with the same club used in the incident resulting in Tyler's dismissal from the force.

It becomes clear to Tyler that Alvarez is not the real villain of the piece—he is just a desperate man fighting back against a corporation determined to succeed at any cost. The climax aboard the FAST train, seemingly rocketing toward disaster with all on board, is like a scene from a James Bond movie.

Pearson has done his homework—Parallel Lies is chock full of high tech details about the workings of modern trains. He succeeds in making Alvarez simultaneously real and sympathetic.

Less successful, though, is his characterization of Tyler and his colleague and love interest, Nell Priest, an NUR security officer with conflicted allegiances. Things come together too easily for Tyler—he follows the clues in a straight line with nary a misstep or false assumption. While readers can sympathize with his predicament and seethe with rage when it is clear he is being set up to take the fall for NUR's problems, these emotions are purely situational and have little to do with Tyler himself. The relationship between Tyler and Priest is perfunctory and lacking emotional depth.

It seems that Pearson, having written a dozen Boldt novels, had a hard time changing gears with a new protagonist. In a series, a writer can often rely on the backstory developed over preceding novels. In a standalone novel like this, the character must leap full-blown from these few pages.

The story itself occasionally gets lost in its own intricate detail. Some of the more complex train scenes, especially the events on board the FAST at the climax, are confusingly staged. Pearson's writing is occasionally awkward and strained.

This may make it sound like Parallel Lies is a book you might want to pass up—not so. This is definitely a fast-paced thriller and if you want to be taken for a speedy ride with clever twists and turns, Pearson's book fits the bill just fine.

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