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by Jack Fredrickson
St Martin's Minotaur, November 2006
304 pages
ISBN: 0312351682

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Dek Elstrom is a former private investigator at the bottom of the barrel. His marriage is over, his professional reputation is ruined and he is out of money. To top it all off, the only home he has to live in has been rezoned and marked as a historical landmark. Dek is not allowed to make any changes such as adding heating or a new roof nor is he allowed to live there. These rules do not stop him and Dek finds meaning in his life in resisting City Hall and its restrictions.

Then Dek is hired to investigate an extortion letter that was sent to Crystal Waters, a premier gated community. The community must also deal with the explosion in an empty house. No one was harmed but there was a lot of property damage. It is likely that the bombing and the extortion letter are connected, yet no one seems concerned about the possibility of future attacks.

Anton Chernek, representing the community, wants Dek to do a cursory investigation to appease their insurance company but does not plan on involving the police or the Feds. He plans on paying the extortionist and hoping the problem goes away. Dek does not feel the same – he wants the police involved to prevent future attacks and to keep the community members safe.

Then there is another explosion and the police are forced to become involved. Unfortunately, the police believe Dek would be an ideal suspect. Dek must expose the truth before he ends up in jail and the guilty party escapes justice.

A SAFE PLACE FOR DYING is a slow and frustrating read. The story meanders all over the place with the bulk of the narrative dealing with Dek and his problems and past instead of the bombing or a criminal investigation. Then when the plot does address the situation at Crystal Waters, the narrative still seems to drag.

Dek’s investigation is not very interesting and he frequently finds himself wandering off on tangents. Overall, this book is not very suspenseful or tension-filled. By not using either plot device, the story is matter of fact and mundane rather than interesting.

Dek is not a very competent investigator and I am surprised that he manages to accomplish everything he does. He is the type of investigator that falls asleep on a stake-out and misses other important events. If Dek were a free spirit, who is able to laugh at himself, this would have been a different situation. As he takes all of his faults to heart, he is unappealing and, at times, pathetic. While there is some personal growth throughout the story and he is strides ahead of where he was when his marriage fell apart, Dek still needs a lot more personal strength before he can be a good detective.

A SAFE PLACE FOR DYING is Jack Fredrickson’s debut novel. While Fredrickson does have the imagination to be a successful novelist, his writing style needs more tweaking before this success can happen.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, October 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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