|Craig Spector: To Bury the Dead|
Press (Hardcover), ISBN 1-58881-010-0
Paul Kelly perseveres despite all the suffering, most of it human-inflicted, because he believes he makes "a difference in an indifferent world. Being a firefighter mattered." For example, Paul saves a seemingly dead toddler from a fire and, through resuscitation, brings the child back to life.
Home provides Paul refuge from the world's brutality. His wife Julie and 16-year-old Kyra -- their only child and the daughter whom Paul adores -- constitute the center of his existence.
One night, however, Paul's world collapses. The team answers a call. The victim: "Caucasian female, blunt trauma to the head." Her identity: Kyra. She dies in the ambulance with Paul by her side.
The police arrest a suspect. He refuses to talk. Because of a clerical error, he makes bail. Anger overcomes Paul and Julie. Embittered, Paul searches for the how and why of the murder.
This psychological novel depicts a man whose grief provokes payback. Unfortunately, the writing, characterization, dialogue and motif fail the plot. The lackluster writing stifles the action, including the rescue sequences and those portraying Paul and Julie's grief. The narrative lacks immediacy and tension, even during the violent scenes arising from Paul's drastic plan to unearth answers.
As a character, Paul never elicits empathy. Anti-heroes abound in literature, but Paul lacks the spiritual complexity to capture the unwilling reader. The hate he feels towards his daughter's alleged killer crowds out rather than interacts with grief and caring. The author precludes us from feeling any sympathy by turning Paul into a pigheaded monster. Paul's struggle to lead two lives never proves compelling.
The other characters suffer the same one-dimensional portrayal. Julie plays the loving wife, then grief-stricken mother. The rescue team members, the best friend, the two "animated idiots," the rookie, the "friend-of-the-family police detective" and the tight-lipped murder suspect -- none of them spring to literary life.
Stilted dialogue prevents the characters from connecting. The banter between Paul and the other rescue team members never clicks. Paul and Julie converse in time-worn words and phrases. Even the confrontations between Paul and the suspect prove unexciting.
A fire motif, meant to symbolize the "ignition" of hate, falls flat. Three fires occurring in the book -- a low-income apartment building, a rest home and a flophouse that also serves as a crack factory -- never achieve allegorical status. A fourth fire also falls short of its metaphorical meaning.
To Bury the Dead sputters instead of catching fire. The flicker never bursts into flame. For psychological suspense, read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment instead.
Lynn I. Miller
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