In 1969's “One Endless Hour”, the phenomenal crime novel by Dan J. Marlowe, there is a climactic sequence of events where the protagonist is working with hard-men to orchestrate an elaborate heist job. That sequence was a harrowing thrill-ride as the criminals transport a great deal of human capital to a central location in efforts to minimize the chances of being caught. It was an enormous undertaking by the author and the characters, and until now, I haven't seen anything as effective as that high-tension scene.
Gilbert Ralston's final 'Dakota' novel, “Chain Reaction”, has this white knuckle chapter where the heroic Shoshone detective is moving the good and bad guys from Nevada to Arizona to Oakland. In that effort, we get a kidnapped corporate crony, a ruthless casino owner and dozens of vigilant Native Americans looking for revenge on the Mob. It mirrors the tension, pace and atmosphere of Marlowe's scene while still possessing its own identity and flavor. In other words...it kicks total ass.
This closing chapter of the five-book 'Dakota' series focuses on its own mythology, coming full circle to link events from the prior four books into one epic and unforgettable story. It originates with the mysterious murder of Native American dockworker Aaron Costarella. From there, two ferocious killers track down and murder Costarella's wife (with disturbing imagery of her hanging from her thumbs riddled with burns and bruises). The Costarellas' daughter comes to Dakota with the case. It's his quest to find what the Costarellas were hiding, why they were murdered and how three ornamental daggers fit the puzzle. Add in a mysterious key, Marvin Kinter (the casino guy who tried to kill Dakota in books 2-4), an Oakland kingpin (Dakota's surprising ally from book 4) and a whole lot of fighting...and you get what is probably the best of the series (although my high praise is still heaped on the debut).
It's an engaging quest to find the killers, one that puts Dakota in Arizona, Nevada and California and aligned with a multitude of law enforcement and...bad guys. The Native Americans make for a great cast, aptly simplified to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in one comical scene. The interplay between characters is entertaining, exchanging differences to create a cohesive fighting force. Like prior books, there's a central theme that branches out into a number of remarkable and noteworthy adventures. Fighting? It's shipped in by the truckloads – there's dockyard brawls, bar fights, street fights, car chases and lots of “tie him to a chair and make him talk” stuff that's vintage brutality.
At the end of the book, I'm not sure if Ralston had plans to continue. It certainly could have ventured on, continuing Dakota's risky and violent work ethic. As an ending to the series, it works out quite well and fits as a quality sendoff. I wish there were more books like 'Dakota'. It's an amazing series and prompts me to keep these five paperbacks forever. That's a testament to outstanding fiction. You just can't go wrong with this series.
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