G.M. Ford,
Red Tide
(William Morrow, 2004)

After roaming the Midwest in A Blind Eye, G.M. Ford brings his intrepid and nosy reporter, Frank Corso, back to the Pacific Northwest in Red Tide. In this one, Ford tackles international terrorism in his own, unique way. Ford ignores the stereotype ("Let's make the Arabs the culprits"). Instead, he does something much more interesting, all along commenting on the state of affairs in today's United States. He reminds us that horrible things have happened in other parts of the world, and maybe one of those will come back and bite us just as Middle East policy has.

The book is extremely tight and well-plotted, with twists and turns that will make your head spin. The ending, however, leaves a lot to be desired. I don't mean the end of the story, but the end of the book itself.

The book starts at the photo exhibition of Meg Dougherty, Corso's sometimes lover. It's going extremely well, but is interrupted by the police and an order to evacuate. They won't say why, which is Frank's signal to stick his nose into the situation. He discovers that somebody has released a deadly disease in a Seattle bus tunnel, killing more than 100 people. Meanwhile, Meg heads home but stumbles upon a man from her past. She follows him, loses him, then finds him again -- dead on her kitchen floor. Are these two occurrences linked? Who would do something so horrible to the citizens of Seattle? And worse, will they strike again? Corso, Dougherty and the Seattle police race to find out what happened, constantly interrupted by the Feds, who have their own agenda and thoughts on the situation, as they usually do.

Red Tide benefits from using the current political climate to add a lot of tension to an already interesting plot. At first, I thought Ford was making his political point much too blatantly, with the Feds coming in and trying to use the Patriot Act to intimidate everybody. The message is a bit strong, but I realized that this is what the Feds in these books always do, just more so. They always butt into the situation like they know everything and the hero has to avoid them and solve the crime despite them. Sometimes they help at the end, sometimes they don't. In this case, they just serve to get in the way. Corso makes some comments against the war in Iraq, especially referencing weapons of mass destruction, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that Corso is a pretty liberal guy anyway.

When you look at the situation like that, it becomes a lot more bearable. The rest of the book is extremely interesting. It's also very tight, taking place over two days, except the last few pages. It's nice to see that, for once, Corso isn't on the outs with everybody, and the cooperation between Corso and the cops is a great change of pace. The description of the victims of the disease is horrifying, even more so when you see the reactions of the experts to the situation. The plot is intricate and red herrings abound. This is actually tough considering, for the first time I can remember in a Corso novel, Ford actually presents us with the viewpoint of the villain(s). Anybody with a good memory of the last 20 to 30 years will be able to guess what's going on before Ford actually reveals it, but that's not a bad thing. Even better, when you do figure it out you still won't know exactly what's going to be done about it.

As always, the characterization is what really makes the book. Ford presents us with a lot of characters, some more fleshed out than others. Usually, Dougherty and Corso are the only ones with a lot of meat to them, but Ford gives us three cops who are vividly drawn, as well as a few others (some of whom may be villains). He gives us a lot of information on the police chief, making him three-dimensional, as he does with the cops who go around with Corso and Dougherty. Corso is a winner, too, and Dougherty has a lot done with her. My only disappointment was that Dougherty disappears about two-thirds of the way through the book.

Then, there's the ending. Once everything is settled, Ford does something with Dougherty that I really hate. I don't know what Ford plans for the next Corso novel (and the cover jacket says that he's writing it, so it looks like he's not abandoning Corso as he did Leo Waterman), but it better resolve this issue with Dougherty. Otherwise, it's exactly what happened with the last Waterman book, and it annoyed me then, too. The ending of the story drags a little, too, but it's more understandable as we have to wait along with the characters to know exactly how things are going to settle and how many deaths there will be at the end. It's interesting, but it's slow.

Overall, Red Tide is another winning Frank Corso book from a wonderful Seattle author. It's neat to see all the familiar Seattle landmarks, and it adds to the tension when all of this is happening to a city that you love. It's still well worth a read. Just don't let the ending get you down.

- Rambles
written by David Roy
published 2 October 2004

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