BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times August 1-7, 2007
by Philip K. Jason
Jonathon King has become, in a very short time, one of the premier crime novelists among the exceptionally talented group writing in and about Florida. His terrain includes the densely populated counties of South Florida and the sparsely populated, mysterious Everglades. King has just brought out his fifth “Max Freeman” novel, after a brief escape from Max with the recent and masterful “Eye of Vengeance.” Max’s return in “Acts of Nature” brings the protagonist fully into the ferocity of Florida’s most powerful natural menace – the hurricane. Or is that menace human nature? The title lets us take our pick.
Unlike most crime fiction, “Acts of Nature” does not attach the hero to a particular investigation. But as in some of the best of the genre, trouble finds him anyway.
The plot involves a triangulation of destinies, and the narrative technique finds King alternating three story lines until they inevitably intersect and explode.
The first story line involves a shared vacation between private investigator Max Freeman and his girlfriend, Sherry Richards, who is a detective with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Desiring an uninterrupted escape, Sherry leaves no contact information as the two decide to nurture a relationship that has engaged King’s readers through several books. After some time at Max’s Everglades cabin, the two seek out a remote fishing camp to continue their cautious embrace of the area’s allure. They lose contact with the fact that a tropical storm has turned into a serious hurricane speedily bearing down on the Glades.
The second story has to do with a pair of security operatives for an oil company. These men, Harmon and Shields, are hired guns performing the kind of deniable dirty tricks that corporate success requires in the unstable world of international politics. When we first meet them, they are liberating a computerized analysis device from a pump room in Venezuela.
The third track concerns three low-lifes from the Ten Thousand Islands area. The leader is an ex-con, Buck, who runs salvage operations (burglaries) as mentor to two teenagers who do the heavy lifting. It’s a pretty slick operation, looting empty homes in gated communities across South Florida and fencing the goods. When the hurricane strikes, Buck is convinced that there will be easy pickings at the damaged fishing retreats in the Everglades. He assumes that the owners will first attend to their primary homes before checking on the condition of these remote properties.
King nails the lingo of the teenagers and builds a compelling portrait of their milieu, their relationship to one another, and their interaction with the thirtyish Buck. Theirs is a sad story, but it is related with zest and with the kind of telling details that pull the reader in.
Through short, fast-paced chapters, King draws in the net that holds his three stories until they become one. The complications include a serious injury to Sherry Richards, an injury that becomes life-threatening due to the pair’s isolation and the wreckage created by the hurricane. As King fashions their responses to this predicament, he artfully deepens the characterizations of both Sherry and Max while ratcheting up the suspense.
“Acts of Nature,” published by Dutton, is a not only a sharp-edged thriller, but an album of American types and of America’s moral malaise.
King’s new readers will want to go back to the beginning of the Max Freeman series – the award-winning “The Blue Edge of Midnight” – and follow the ongoing Freeman saga. King’s committed followers will enjoy this new Freeman adventure, but are likely to hope that the walk-on part assigned to Palm Beach lawyer Billy Manchester, Max’s main source of employment and frequent benefactor, is enlarged in the next outing. And all followers of Florida crime fiction will chuckle at the affectionate passing reference to Jim Born, who really is a special agent for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as well as a stalwart member of the Florida crime fiction tribe.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.