by Laurence Gough,
256 pages,
ISBN: 0575057823

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High on Plot
by Richard Perry

BECAUSE they offer vivid, fast-paced action and a sense of fated inevitability that (outside of novels) only the gods can foresee, I have read -- on slow trams, long flights, and dull evenings -- all six of Laurence Gough's previous crime "thrillers" featuring the Vancouver cops Jack Willows and Claire Parker. I can't claim to recall am, of the characters in Gough's novels certainly not the way I remember Elmore Leonard's wackos or Simenon's devious introverts -- but the set- ups, the plot convergences are easily evoked. Even Willows and Parker themselves have lacked distinctive presence, partly because they are intrinsically nondescript characters whose idiosyncrasies arc convincingly banal, and partly because Gough has always been more interested in the self-destructive tendencies of those who perpetrate violent crime. Killers offers a slight divergence from Gough's proven, much acclaimed modus operandi. The title, which no doubt refers both to the killer whales in Vancouver's main aquarium and to the person who drowns and dumps the body of Dr. Gerard Roth (scientist and lech) into the whales' pool, might well have been "Lovers," an irony not lost on Gough. Willows and Parker themselves pursue an amorous affair that has been slowly blooming through the series, and Willows's estranged wife returns briefly to deposit son and daughter on the inspector's doorstep. This sub-plot is neither totally convincing (a surly, sullen, "acting-out" adolescent boy will hardly be transformed by a puppy) nor is it the reason why we pick up crime novels in the first place; but then, Willows and Parker never did much effective sleuthing other than to find their way to the bloody denouement.

Victim Roth, who likes to Skinny dip after hours in the aquarium's shark pool, has been having an affair with a devoted colleague, a philandering that his wife, tending her obnoxious Boston bulldogs on a Small Vancouver off-island, has long endured. Witnesses to the tossing of Roth's nude body into the whale pool are a pair of young, devil-may-care lovers, high on pot, who have sneaked into the aquarium grounds after hours; they decide to blackmail the person whom they believe to be the killer. Gough resorts to his usual adroit shuffling of short scenes through which the paths of the characters come together at an accelerating pace, though in fact Willows's domestic problems and the young blackmailers' chit-chat produce a drag effect that the reader can always opt to omit. No clues will be missed, for the murderer is as clearly signalled as the climax is bizarre and sightly bathetic.

Cough coninues to write crisp, realistic dialogue and engaging, graphic description:

Eddy Orwell sliced the flat of his hand rapidly back and forth across shiny blond brushcut, as if smoothing it down prior to sticking a tee in his skull and reaching for his putter.

If Gough seems a tad distracted by his cops, love life, he nevertheless has not lost his sense of humour or his tensile style.


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