Onyx reviews: The Night Monster by
James Carpenter is the classic noir private detective—a man so obsessed by
his profession that he has alienated everyone in his life, including his now-ex
wife and his previous employers, the police department. He lives in a room over
a bar. His only friend is his dog, Buster, although he maintains a good
relationship with his college-aged daughter.
Nearly twenty years ago, he made several rookie mistakes when responding to a
domestic violence call, including failing to call for backup. Carpenter was
disarmed and beaten by the perpetrator, a monster of a man. He didn't even get
the license plate number of the vehicle that took the young woman away. The case
was never solved, the kidnap victim never found.
As a way of atoning for his failure, Carpenter joined Missing Persons, until
he was drummed out of the Broward County Sheriff's Department two years ago for
using excessive force. Though his relationship with the police is strained, they
often turn to him when children go missing. His ability to solve those cases
borders on the eerie—or the eerily convenient. Unfortunately, the author
James Swain has chosen to make Carpenter virtually infallible when he tackles
one of these cases.
Carpenter's daughter, who plays for the Florida State Lady Seminoles
basketball team, thinks a stalker may be filming them. At their next game,
Carpenter chases away a man with a video camera, and that night one of his
daughter's teammates is kidnapped. Once again, Carpenter is unable to prevent
the crime, which involves the same gigantic culprit from long ago. Carpenter can
wrestle alligators but he can't lay a hand on this monster.
A lot of what happens in The Night Monster is strains credibility. Though
Carpenter is low on money, he can pay for valet parking. After being evicted
from his room when his Australian Shepherd goes on a rampage and chews up the
mattress, the furnishings and even tears a hole through the wall (is that even
possible?) he manages to pack up all of his possessions into his aging, decrepit
car a matter of minutes.
After Carpenter's latest run in with the kidnapper sends him to the hospital,
he engages in light-hearted banter with his daughter about the cute woman who
gave him CPR when he wakes up the next morning, despite the fact that her best
friend is missing.
The missing girl's father shows up at their next basketball game. It's hard
to imagine a distraught parent having any time for sports during such a crisis.
The encounter seems orchestrated by the author so the father can have a run-in
with a TV reporter.
The cops are all pigheaded and narrow minded. No matter how much evidence
Carpenter presents to them, they stubbornly cling to the first theory of the
crime that presents itself. It's hard to understand why Carpenter believes that
people will think he's insane if he claims that a 6' 10" / 300 lb man was
the kidnapper. It's not like he's claiming it was a space alien or the creature
from the black lagoon. Large people exist. In fact, the culprit and his sidekick—the stalker with the video camera—are strongly reminiscent of Lenny and
George from Of Mice and Men.
Carpenter is relentlessly correct in his theories. He makes some amazing
logical leaps based on minimal evidence. Clues persist for decades just waiting
for him to find them.
He has a couple of powerful allies—the wealthy father of the missing
basketball player and an FBI agent whose own daughter was taken many years ago.
At one point he actually sees the missing girl, but fails to mention that to her
father—something that would have comforted and encouraged the man.
Based on wild speculation, he pursues the serial abductors to a small Central
Florida town so weird that it feels like it was lifted straight out of an
episode of The X-Files or Fringe. The town's secret strains
credibility to the breaking point, as does the motivation for the kidnappings.
The final confrontation, however, is anticlimactic. Carpenter's previous
ineptitude when confronted with dangerous situations vanishes and everything
falls into place.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2007-2010. All rights reserved