G.M. Ford,
A Blind Eye
(Avon, 2003)

Setting your mysteries in Seattle (one of my favourite cities) is not the way to keep me as a reader, but it will certainly help get me started. Thankfully, G.M. Ford has a way with writing that will always keep me around. His Leo Waterman mysteries were first-rate, and his Frank Corso books have kept his string of winning novels alive. A Blind Eye continues this, as Ford creates a page-turner that will keep any hard-boiled detective fan glued to the text.

True-crime author and disgraced newspaper reporter Frank Corso is having a bad day. He's stuck in Chicago's O'Hare Airport, snowed in and stranded with an irate Meg Dougherty (former lover and one real friend) along for the ride. Why is Meg irate? Because Frank never bothered to tell her that the reason for the "story" they are pursuing is really because two Texas rangers have a warrant for his arrest. Stuck in an airport, his picture showing up on CNN and security starting to look at him strangely, Corso drags Meg on an ill-considered car ride into Wisconsin, where icy roads send them to the bottom of a ravine. What they discover there will bring more than just Texas law enforcement down on his head. It will involve them in a cross-country trip on the trail of a serial killer uncaught for over 30 years. It also, of course, makes him a target.

A Blind Eye takes Corso out of his familiar Seattle, and I think it stretched Ford's writing talent as well. Seattle and western Washington has always been a cozy location for him in which to write, with familiar territory and landmarks making identification easier. This one starts out in Chicago, goes to southern Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania and the wilds of the New Jersey mountains. Removed from his familiar environs, Ford has to work a little bit harder, and he does a great job. Some of it is a bit stereotypical (I'm from Iowa, and he captures it decently, but not wonderfully), but overall it shows that he did some research on his locales.

Removing Corso and Dougherty from the northwest also allows him to broaden their characters as well. Seeing them on the run presents a different side of them, how they react when desperation hits. Usually, we see our heroes chasing the bad guys, not the other way around.

The relationship between Dougherty and Corso crackles with energy. They used to be lovers and have now become the best of friends. Dougherty is extremely annoyed with Corso, but she goes along with him anyway. She obviously still loves him to put up with all that he puts her through. In fact, their relationship goes through an even more pronounced change in A Blind Eye, evolving as they are forced together by circumstances. That's one thing I love about Ford's writing: the characters are always open to change and growth. While it certainly is not necessary to read the books in order, things change enough that you are rewarded for doing so. This makes both of them even deeper characters than most genre detectives.

The minor characters are given just enough depth to be believable while not overshadowing the protagonists. The sheriff of the Wisconsin town is predictably overwhelmed by having all of the media attention centered on her, along with a gloryhound deputy who's gunning for her job. This situation actually ends up being important, driving some of the action despite the fact that it's not center-stage. This is a bit distracting from the main plot, but it's not critical. Most of the rest get little, if any, development, but they're suitably quirky and/or malevolent to serve their roles. The one exception to this isn't obvious until the end, however. In between some of the chapters are entries from a journal whose author is unrevealed. As the book goes on, it becomes clearer and actually adds to the horror of what is happening, as we realize that the cycle of violence may not be ending like we thought it would.

There are only a couple of faults with this book. The first is the fact that there are some superfluous scenes in the book that seem to be included just to show us how tough Corso is. Regular readers already know how tough he is, and subsequent events in the book show this to new readers. Unless Ford is just trying to show us what our rights are during a traffic stop, I see no point to them. While this is forgivable, the second problem is far more damning.

The book posits the existence of a super-secret organization that journalists and others can use to get information that is otherwise unobtainable (at least in a timely manner). This organization is so secret that they will not accept any new queries from a phone number they don't have on file, and any such calls require that the phone be disposed of as soon as the call is completed. The presentation of this organization screams PLOT DEVELOPMENT every time Corso uses it, bringing me out of the narrative. It results in a couple of funny scenes (especially when Corso has to use Meg's phone for a question), but overall it's just distracting.

Overall, A Blind Eye is a wonderful page-turner. It's not a taxing read -- in fact it's perfect for Sunday afternoons or beach reading. If you like your mysteries with great characters who grow and change, the Frank Corso books are definitely for you. You don't even have very many to catch up on. Whatever you do, though, check this one out.

- Rambles
written by David Roy
published 26 June 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.