Wednesday, August 17, 2011

County LIne

By Bill Cameron
Madison WI, Tyrus Books, 2011
409 pages     Fiction

Skin Kadash is in love with Ruby Jane Whittaker. He is a retired Portland OR police officer; she is an enigmatic owner of a chain of coffee shops. And she has disappeared and apparently doesn’t want to be found. This is the premise of County Line by Bill Cameron, the third in a series of books featuring Skin Kalish and Ruby Jane Whittaker.

Publisher’s Weekly calls County Line “noir” fiction, and I suppose it is, although it doesn’t have the sexual overtones that one has come to expect from such novels. What it does have is a protagonist who is as much a victim as he is a hard-boiled detective. Actually, he is a bit of a bumbler.

County Line is divided into three sections. The first section sets up the action; Skin returns to Portland following a convalescence from a shooting. Ruby Jane has disappeared. He engages her former lover, Pete to travel with him to the Midwest to try to find her. They have to contend with a couple of dead bodies before they even get to Ruby Jane, and when they finally find her, she quickly disappears again.

In a rather abrupt shift, part two of the book takes place some twenty years previously and tells us about the circumstances of Ruby Jane’s life as a teenager; circumstances which most likely led her back to her roots as an adult. I found this the most engaging section of the book, because it gives us our only real glimpse into the character of the mysterious Ruby—up to this point, we really know nothing about her. Life is neither easy nor fair for Ruby in her teenage years; she is only comfortable when she is playing basketball or running down country roads away from a horrid home life.  I was particularly fond of the compassionate teacher who guided her through turbulent times. 

We return to Skin and Pete in Part 3  when their search takes them to the San Juan Islands in Washington State and the climax of the book. Everything moves very quickly until the ending, and there are quite a few surprises in store for the reader. 

Skin is an interesting character; frankly, he is pretty ordinary and very human. One reviewer says: “Rather than operating as a carefully objective investigator, he is caught up is his own emotional attachments. Kadash is not one of these machine-like master minds that populate so many of the popular thrillers of the day."

The teenage Ruby Jane is the star of this novel. She is feisty and creative in the ways in which she tries to solve rather unsolvable problems. Since the author gives us few clues as to the character of the adult Ruby Jane, we have to be satisfied with what we know of her as a teenager. I probably would have been happier reading about her teenage years if I had known her better as an adult. Perhaps if I had read the previous books by Cameron in which she is a character, Day One and Chasing Smoke, I would have a better understanding of her.

There are some unanswered questions in this thriller and some places where things just don’t ring true. On the whole, however, County Line is engrossing and fun to read from start to satisfying conclusion. Cameron has a knack for weaving a plot together in ways that keep the reader guessing.  

Bill Cameron places his characters in settings he knows well; the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, and Ruby Jane’s home and school are in the community where he grew up. As a Midwesterner, I was able to envision the country roads Ruby ran down. Cameron makes the setting very vivid. 

One interesting sidelight is that there are several QR codes embedded in the book that a person with a smart phone can scan. These QR codes contain photos, interviews, and a deleted scene. A novel device in a novel—no one I knew had the application that could read them, however. There’s more information  about how to use these QR codes on Cameron’s website.

I received County Line from the publicist. I can recommend it to my readers who like noir, crime, and thrillers. Start with the first book in the series for the best impact. 

Bill Cameron’s website:

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