Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: OLLIE CHANDLER COLLECTION: DEADLINE, DOMINION, DECEPTION




I clearly knew that I was biting off more than I could chew when I embarked on the opus that is the Ollie Chandler Series: Deadline, Dominion and Deception by Randy Alcorn. The omnibus was a whopping 1800+ pages, and it seemed highly unlikely that I would ever succeed in plodding through it given the fact that like any harried working mother, I chase after too many goals at the same time.


Fortunately, once I started reading it, I realized that this book didn’t require plodding at all. It grabbed my attention and retained it all through. Reading it wasn’t a breeze, of course, and there were many times when I had to back-track and read a particular passage or a section of a chapter all over again. The writing made that extra effort on my part worthwhile.

If you thought that a piece of fiction that centred on religion, would necessarily be boring and humdrum, you would be in for a surprise. In this series, Alcorn manages to marry the two strangers-to-each-other genres of faith and mystery, without ever letting the reader’s attention flag or falter.

Alcorn’s prose brings the scene alive every time. Whether he is re-creating life in a newspaper office or amid the gangbangers and drug-infested streets or at the scene of a homicide, he clearly has a knack for description.

DEADLINE

In Deadline, Jake Woods is a politically correct syndicated columnist at the Oregon Tribune whose relationships with his ex-wife and daughter have deteriorated, leaving him feeling empty and purposeless. His childhood best friends, Finney, a businessman, and Doc, a surgeon, are the only two relationships that he can still treasure. When the car in which the three are travelling meets with an accident which claims the lives of Doc and Finney, but leaves him with a few scratches, Jake is plagued by sorrow for his friends and guilt for having been spared.

When he gets a note in the mail, saying it wasn’t an accident, Jake contacts Portland Police department detective Ollie Chandler with the information. A casual investigation of the mangled Suburban in which they were travelling reveals sabotage.

Jake becomes increasingly convinced that foul play has been responsible for the deaths of his best friends. He is determined to discover the identity of the culprits and bring them to book. But it isn’t long before he learns that the search for truth can be dangerous.

Written from the third person viewpoint of Jake, the book takes us into the mind of a newspaperman, whose passion for his job is seen in the fonts he analyses and the audacity he brings to his activities. Reading Deadline brought back memories of the seven months I spent working in a newspaper and the caffeine induced rush that it was. There are analogies to be drawn between life and newspapers, particularly to do with mistakes and final editions and deadlines, and Alcorn draws them here. The book offers a clear picture of the world today, the hectic hurriedness, the deadline driven world where nothing is constant, the meaning and meaninglessness of death.

The characters of Doc, Jake and Finney were fleshed out in detail, each rendered tremendously likeable, with a dash of humour.

Diehard fans of mystery fiction will enjoy Alcorn’s writing. The book is worth reading even if you don’t subscribe to its philosophy. Alcorn, a Christian fiction and non-fiction writer, offers a detailed picture of Christian morality. A lot of the time, at least for me, it was like preaching to the choir. Of course, the tone never gets weighty or preachy and those who want their cup of mystery fiction undiluted with philosophy, spirituality or morality would still enjoy the story.

His prose, well crafted throughout the series, very often takes on the garb of poetry as when he says, “War seemed neat and tidy until you were in one,” or “He savored every word from home as if each were a drop of dew collected by a man dying of thirst.

I got a clear understanding of what it must feel like when the breath of life deserts the body. Even though this is a fictional representation, I felt comforted by it. I got a sense of the joy that would come of meeting one’s long-lost people again. 

The description of hell as a place where God is not and therefore where nothing good that comes from God can ever be seemed far more realistic that the flames of fire that we grew up hearing about. There were sections when Alcorn described the miracle of conception in a manner that seemed awe-inspiring, and brought a thin film of tears to my eyes. Deadline also throws light on issues such as abortion and the suffering of good people.

Since this novel is a part of the Ollie Chandler collection, how can we omit any mention of the overweight, raspy voiced, food-obsessed, ketchup-stained tie-wearing detective? The man talks clear language, knows right from wrong and steadfastly chases after the wrong to bring it to book. His witty one-liners make him a detective quite unlike any other. At least he didn’t make the reader feel inadequate as fictional detectives often do, by seeming to solve murder mysteries just by conjuring up speculative theories out of their hats.

Deadline is a warm, sensitively told story that stays with you.



DOMINION

Dominion is the sequel to Deadline, born out of the overwhelming response to the book. Having gotten used to Jake as the hero, it is initially unsettling to see him reduced to a bit role while Clarence Abernathy, his sports columnist colleague at the Tribune, assumes centre stage. But as you go on, Alcorn succeeds in convincing you to see the world through Clarence’s eyes.

When Clarence’s younger sister Dani and her two daughters are shot at in a gangbangers episode that claims the lives of Dani and her little daughter, Felicia, Clarence immerses himself in detective Chandler’s efforts to find out who it was that killed them and why anyone would want to do that.

I learned a lot about black history and pride, the aggressions suffered by people for the colour of their skin, and how ever so often we continue are unconsciously and unknowingly racist.

The dominion of the title refers to the gangbangers’ attempts to set and enforce their territorial limits through force, and how this whole world is ultimately a dominion of God.

DECEPTION

Deception sees the spotlight centre on Chandler, and about time too, considering that the series is named after him. This is the first person account of Chandler and gives us a full dose of his trademark humour, of which we’ve already got a familiarity in the previous two books.

Since this is Chandler’s account, Alcorn gets into the heart of the murder investigation, wasting no time in setting the context or back story, as in the case of Deadline and Dominion. Each chapter is introduced with a quote from a different novel or short story of the Sherlock Holmes series, of which Chandler is an avowed fan.

Ten years after Dominion, Clarence and Ollie aren’t comfortable with each other anymore. The chief of the Portland police, keen on enhancing his own image in the eye of the public, agrees to get an Oregon Tribune columnist to trail one of his detectives through a murder investigation and to write about it in his columns. Clarence is sent to trail Chandler, a task that neither is happy about.

The investigation of the murder of William Palladine, a philosophy professor, using multiple methods, is assigned to Chandler. The investigation quickly points to someone from the police department when a detective’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon. The case gets even more convoluted when it seems that every one of the detectives is implicated in some of the other. Chandler himself is not sure about his own whereabouts at the time of the murder. The finding of his own brand of gum wrapper at the scene of the crime makes him wonder if he himself is the killer.

The chief, unwilling to jeopardize the image of the department, tries to smother the investigation. But Chandler is determined to uncover the truth, in spite of three attempts on his life.

Because this is Chandler’s viewpoint, the narrative gets even more entertaining. We have lines like “My heart pounding like a dryer full of Army boots” and “His voice was a hacksaw cutting a rain gutter.

There is a strain of spirituality running through as when Jake and Clarence try to convince Chandler to give God a chance to work in his life. Like Chandler, you can choose to turn off when these parts come up. But even he does begin to pay attention towards the end, so you might as well too.

The deception of the title relates to the deception practiced at the scene of the crime, when the murderer manages to implicate almost everyone in the police department, completely confounding Chandler. It also refers to the deception of evil that pervades our lives.



Alcorn’s research is amazingly meticulous, whether relating to blacks, the medical mafia, the newspaper business or police investigative techniques. He succeeds in giving us the larger picture relating to these big realities while getting us intimately involved in the lives of his protagonists.

Don’t forget that this is a murder mystery, so there are plenty of arguments, controversies and other excitement to keep the adrenaline rush.

I would heartily recommend this one.



I received a copy of Ollie Chandler Collection Three Detective Novels for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.




2 comments:

  1. Hats off to you for finding time to read and then review the books. I don't seem to find time yo pivk up even one! But then guess you can say the same about me for movies!! ;)

    Nice reviews. ..the books sound interesting :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. wow! That's a very comprehensive review, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed as you took us through all the aspects of the books without revealing too much of the plot! Thanks a lot and I'll keep an eye out for these books!

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...