Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A simple witness to a satisfyingly complex story

On page 2 of Bob Siqveland's Simple Witness, Jethro Plack—a very bad man—murders a young woman in a Minneapolis parking garage. It's Jethro's bad luck that one Harold Bartz, aka Bandit—not the sharpest tool in the shed—witnesses the killing. Jethro does catch Bandit's truck license number, however, and the game's afoot.

Bandit, smart enough to realize he's in danger but, rather than going to the cops with what he's seen, lights out for Las Vegas. Vegas turns out to be a city of opportunity for Bandit and he induces two other dim Minneapolis friends to join him. But not before the friends inadvertently revealed Bandit's new address to Jethro who sends two Russian hit men clean up his mess. These sections are more like Laurel and Hardy go look for Larry, Moe, and Curly than Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard.

Jethro's telemarketing business is a beard for his very lucrative internet scam which announces that You have WON the Fortune Fate Lottery with a £5,250,00 prize. "The notice was official-looking with lots of numbers, references, and instructions." The instructions were signed by Sir George Bedford in London. To claim the prize, the winner had to send £2,460 to "offset costs of processing your winnings, which include all account openings handling, insurance, transfer, and mailing charges."

So while the Minneapolis cops are investigating the murder, a St. Paul cop begins looking into the internet scam. Simple Witness's short chapters move from Minneapolis to Las Vegas to St. Paul to London and back, and they shift in point of view from Jethro to Bandit to Sean O'Dell, a St. Paul police lieutenant, to Tommy Ling, one of Jethro's minions in London. Because the chapters are short and Siqveland's writing is clear, however, the reader is able to follow all the skulduggery.

I thought Simple Witness was unusually entertaining. I also found Bandit and his two friends unconvincing, but I think it's difficult to write convincingly about characters with limited mental abilities. Finally, Jethro Plack is pure, unmitigated evil, and I think that's always a problem. Aside from ripping off gullible Americans who believe they've won a Fortune Fate Lottery, Plack enjoys causing women pain. He's a sicko and, as such, not that interesting as a character. He and the other bad people deserve what happens to them in the end.

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