Paperback Warrior has a primer on Jack Pearl HERE and a lengthy feature for the 58th podcast episode HERE. While preparing for both of those projects, I was able to read synopsis' for a lot of his books. One that really intrigued me was Victims, a police procedural novel set on Christmas Day in New York City. The book was originally published in hardcover by Trident Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, in 1972 and by Pocket Books in paperback in 1973. Sadly, I believe the book is out of print now. But, you can read it for free on Archive.Org HERE. Supposedly the book was adapted into a film, but I can't locate any record of it at the time of this review.
The novel begins in a theater showing The Green Berets, starring the iconic John Wayne. During one of the firefight scenes, a man holding a shopping bag slips into a tiny room behind the theater screen. While he remembers his Vietnam War experience fighting the “Cong”, he gingerly drops the bag and presses a button on a transmitter that arms a bomb. Outside of the theater, he presses the button and the theater screen erupts into a wall of fire. Bleeding audience members panic in pursuit for the door holding burn and shrapnel wounds. The stage is set for a bomber villain.
Captain Archibald Bender commands a respectable bomb squad. At home over dinner, he is called by a local Sergeant and advised of the bombing. Through dialogue, readers learn that this is just another bombing in a string of domestic terrorism. The bombers are members of the Splinters, an independent black militant group of the Black Panthers. The bombings are a declaration of war on the whites. When Bender arrives at the station, Pearl introduces the supporting characters that will be assisting Bender in his investigation.
Surprisingly, the book's plot isn't on the theater bombing. Instead, Pearl introduces one of the smartest plots I've read in a long time. A member of the Splinters arms a bomb on Christmas Eve inside a gigantic Macy's department store. But, in a mix-up I won't spoil for you, the bomber gift wraps the bomb to resemble a Christmas present. The idea was to drop it somewhere inside the store and allow it to detonate overnight. You see the Splinters don't want to kill anyone, they just want destruction. But, the bomber stooge accidentally places the gift-wrapped bomb inside a box of presents that are being gifted to the children visiting the store Santa. When little Donnie Evans sits on Santa's lap, he receives the little bomb. Donnie then leaves the store with his mother and carries the bomb back home and places it under the tree. Needless to say, Christmas morning for Donnie and his family will be a real blast.
Through a string of wild events and accidents, Bender learns that a bomb is in Macy's. But, through the fast-paced interviews, interrogations, and procedural meetings, Bender still doesn't know where the bomb is and the time of detonation. The only person that can help Bender stop the Christmas bombing is the bomber himself. Pearl's introduction of the bomber and his conversations and assistance with locating the explosive device was simply brilliant. While the bomber doesn't actually know where the device is, he makes a deal with Bender to help find it.
If you love Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, then Jack Pearl's Victims is a must-read. The procedural investigation and the collaboration of other law-enforcement personnel was similar to an excellent 87th Precinct book. The character flow was superb and the plot development was one of the best I've read. This is a suspenseful crime-fiction thriller that has a promising opener, but then delivers on the promise by the book's fiery finale. Pearl can write his ass off, and it shows in the narrative's gritty details. The clash of races, civil unrest, and the mournful regret of Vietnam War veterans were all key elements that enhanced the story. It doesn't get much better than this. Victims is a high recommendation.