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
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
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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