Saturday, May 18, 2019

Book Review: Very Bad Deaths by Spider Robinson

Very Bad Deaths
Author: Spider Robinson
Series: Very Bad Deaths (Book 1)
Publication: Baen Books; 1 edition (January 20, 2014)


Blind to the beauty of his island home in Canada, shattered by the death of his wife of 32 years, American expatriate Russell Walker is ready to join her. But Smelly won't let him!

Smelly—notorious for his refusal to bathe—was Russell's college roommate back in 1967. He's lived a hermit's life ever since, and only Russell knows why: Smelly reads minds, can't help it—and it hurts. After all these years, Russell is still the only person Smelly can stand to be near. And now Smelly urgently needs an intermediary with the police—suicidal or not.

He's learned that a serial sadist who would terrify Ted Bundy is at play in the Vancouver area. Unfortunately, he's got only scraps of information that aren't enough to ID either the killer or his next victims. And he can't even come close enough to a cop to tell his story.

Against his better judgment, Russell brings this unlikely tale to Constable Nika Mandic, a tough but unlucky Vancouver policewoman—and soon the mild-mannered Sixties survivor finds himself conspiring with a telepathic hermit and an uptight cop to track a monster to his lair.

But are the three together smart enough to stalk a creature who thinks of himself as the first true scientist of cruelty If not, Russell's suicidal urges may be fulfilled sooner—and much less painlessly—than he planned. . . .

My Thoughts: This mystery begins with a clinically-depressed man planning his suicide. Russell Walker is a widower who has lost his beloved wife Susan and who is estranged from his son Jesse. He lives on an island outside of Vancouver and writes columns for the Toronto Globe and Mail. He is articulate, irreverent, witty, and a leftover hippie. He's almost at the point of committing to death when his old college roommate drops in - after being out of his life for 30 years - with a problem that needs Russell's help to solve.

Zandor Sudenigo was not Russell's first choice as a roommate. Zandor, better known as Smelly, was someone no one even wanted to be near at the Catholic college in upstate New York. Here's Russell's description: "No. 'Smell' doesn't begin to touch it. Even 'stench' is inadequate. Another word is needed. Perhaps 'reek,' or 'miasma,' or possibly 'fetor.' You could have planted beans in his body odor. Some said it would show up on radar. Paint discolored as he walked past. Flies dropped from the sky behind him." What made their relationship possible was that Russell was a really laid-back guy who was very tolerant of differences.

What Russell only figured out years later was that Zandor was a telepath who used his foul odor to keep people far enough away from him that he could survive the contact. It is his telepathy that brings him to Russell. Someone passed over his remote island in a plane that was crashing and Zandor found himself inside a mind that was incredibly evil. He learns that the man is planning to kidnap and murder a family living in a Vancouver suburb. He wants Russell to use his police contacts as a newspaper man to begin an investigation.

Russell doesn't have any police contacts. He makes it clear that he is not a reporter but a columnist and that he writes for a newspaper in Toronto, not Vancouver. The first problem is figuring which variety of police he needs because of the wide variety of jurisdictions involved. Then he has to find the proper place to report this possible crime. After a major runaround, he finally meets a police officer when he prevents her car from being stolen. Constable Nika Mandic wouldn't be his first choice of police ally. After all, she is one of the officers assigned to drive around the van bringing exhibits to the local schools.

This unlikely trio doesn't seem like much of a force when pitted against a man who has killed many and made a study of ways to cause pain. They seem especially mismatched when the killer finds Russell on his island home and tortures him for information on his colleagues.

This was an engaging story with oddball but intriguing heroes and a really horrible villain. The writing was filled with Robinson's wit and prose. His anti-establishment viewpoint and his irreverent attitude shine through.

Favorite Quote:
The next fifty kilometers or so of highway serve to separate the men from the helplessly screaming objects plummeting from great heights. Those fifty kilometers carry you through some of the most splendid scenery to be found anywhere on the planet, and ensure that you will not be able to spare a since second's attention to appreciate it. They seem to have been carefully designed by a crack team of brilliant sadists to provide every possible driving challenge ...over and over, often in combination, and always by surprise. There are blind curves, double switchbacks, incorrect banks, inadequate shoulders overlooking horrific dropoffs, vanishlingly rare passing zones, frequent avalanches - and on the rare stretches that do let you get a little speed going, there's usually a scenic-lookoff turnout feeding low speed traffic back into the stream.
I bought this one. I bought the paperback sometime before February 2009 and the Kindle when I decided I wanted to read the story. You can buy your copy here.

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