Friday, June 28, 2024

Reid Bennett #01 - Dead in the Water

Author Ted Wood (1931-2019) was born as Edward John Wood in Shoreham, Sussex, England. He joined the RAF Coastal Command and in 1954 he immigrated to Canada. Wood worked as a Toronto police officer for three years and then became a creative director for an advertising firm. As a writer, he scripted radio, stage plays, and television dramas including Encounter (1952) and the CBC Show of the Week (1964). 

In 1983, Wood tried his hand at writing full-length original novels. His debut, Dead in the Water, was published by Scribner in hardcover and later as a paperback by Bantam in 1984 (cover by Steve Gorman). Thankfully, the book was a hit due in part to a likable Chief of Police named Reid Bennett. Wood wrote a total of 10 books in the series from 1983 to 1995. I always like to start at the beginning, so I dove in for Dead in the Water to get the proper introduction to Wood's hero. 

The opening paragraphs of the book hit like a ton of bricks and instantly reminded me of tight-fisted characters from a Max Allan Collins or Mickey Spillane novel:

“Three of them were working on the girl. The biggest was zipping his fly and laughing while the other two took over, trying for the two-at-once trick. I was off duty. My gun was locked in the safe at the station and I'd changed into plain clothes, so they didn't even know I was a policeman. It wouldn't have mattered to the big one, anyway. He went six four, maybe two eighty. He figured he was Superman. Until I stuck two fingers into his throat. It could have ended there, with one dead, if the second one hadn't come at me. I pinned him but the third one didn't take the hit and so I had to break the arm on the one I was holding and put the third one down. He had a knife so I hurt him.”

It's a deadpan narrative, but it is extremely effective when combined with Wood's stellar, cool-as-ice writing style. His prose is short and to the point, presented in third-person narrative from Bennett. 

As the opening chapter continues, readers learn that Bennett was arrested and found innocent of any wrongdoing. But, the press and city pounded him to the ground and the effect ruined his marriage. Bennett packed up and went where no one could bother him, a small drinking village with a fishing problem called Murphy's Harbour in Ontario. Bennett accepts the role as the coastal town's sole police officer. Sure, he gets a little help from a makeshift deputy, an old WWII veteran with a bum-leg and a yellow hide. But his real assistance comes by way of an obedient German Shepherd named Sam. The dog plays a huge role in the book. 

The book's mystery involves Bennett investigating the disappearance of three men who were originally with a woman named Angela. She reports them missing but initially refuses to provide any details on what the men were doing in the middle of nowhere in a boat at 10PM at night. When one of the men washes up Bennett is surprised to learn he works for a security agency. Someone killed him and then made off with the other two, or they conspired to kill the agent to further their agenda. Bennett and readers need answers.

As a debut novel, Wood works his ass off providing just enough details to keep the case both mysterious and compelling. I read the book in one sitting and found myself rallying behind the Reid Bennett character. He's short on words, has a keen eye for details, and does some really interesting things to get people talking. Part of his action-oriented, fisticuffs experience is presented in short remembrance of his time as U.S. Marine in the Vietnam War. But, his history on the police force really delves into the criminal psyche. I learned a few new tidbits of criminality that have been lost to me over the last 250 crime-fiction novels I've read. Additionally, the chemistry between Sam, the good police dog, and Reid was a welcome change of pace. Reid developed certain key words that instruct Sam on what to do when there is danger. This is no Timmy-Lassie affair. Wood hammers in the violence when necessary and I really enjoyed the mix of savageness and procedural-fiction. 

Dead in the Water was just fantastic and I can't wait to pick up Bennett's next case with Murder on Ice (1984). I may also try the author's other hero, a bodyguard named John Locke that lasted three novels under Wood's pseudonym of Jack Barnao.

No comments:

Post a Comment