Thriller Review 

Deal with the Dead
By Les Standiford
Putnam, 2001
ISBN: 0-399-14704-7

 

“Les Standiford couldn’t write a bad novel if his life depended on it,” critic Peter Mergendahl once enthused on the pages of the Rocky Mountain News.  Resounding kudos for Standiford’s new thriller Deal with the Dead suggest that Mergendahl’s perspicacity is validated by the test of time—Standiford’s new hardcover is his sixth in the popular series featuring intrepid Miami building contractor hero John Deal and his eighth novel overall.  

Waiting over two years since Black Mountain (Putnam, Aug. ’98), an action-driven stand-alone (Deal-less) thriller which revisited the timely environmental themes and wilderness settings of his cinematic debut novel Spill (the movie Spill still runs occasionally on late-night cable) legions of faithful of the award-winning, urbane suspense author will be happy to learn that Miami building contractor John Deal—a sort of “Galahad with a nail gun”—is back for his sixth appearance in this fast-paced, intricately-plotted novel of suspense.  

Flashing artfully back and forth from the late 50s/early 60s—when protagonist John Deal’s builder/father Barton Deal was a leading contractor during the nostalgic period which erected the glitzy Miami and Miami Beach playgrounds of the Arthur Godfrey-era—to time present, when son John is laboring to restore the fortunes of DealCo back to a semblance of its former corporate health, the action moves from Turkey to Paris, to the Caribbean and crosses to South Florida, bringing John and his ex-cop sidekick Vernon Driscoll to an inexorable rendezvous with the past.  

Selected as the winning bidder on a lucrative government-funded project, John Deal is visited by a chimerical figure, representing himself to be from an unspecified covert Federal agency.  The agent informs John that his father, to save himself from bankruptcy, had entered into an association with a Mafia Don.  The senior Deal was then forced to turn informer for the same covert government agency.  In a cruel twist of fate, Deal’s father was caught between the forces of good and evil and ordered by the mob to assassinate his friend Grant Rhodes, a high-rolling owner of a gambling ship and several casinos.  This quandary supposedly led to the elder Deal’s suicide.  With ironic déjà vu, John Deal is trapped in a similar dilemma when Rhodes’ son shows up to collect his father’s treasure stash.   

Proof positive that he couldn’t write a bad novel if he tried—Deal with the Dead is Exhibit-A that Standiford just keeps getting better.   

 

Brewster Milton Robertson
Southern Scribe Reviews