Reviewed by Jim Napier
PI Sam Jones has had a difficult life, and recently it’s only gotten worse. A veteran of the war in Iraq, Sam has seen death before, and he lost an arm in the conflict. Returned from the fighting and now a civilian, he is in a Toronto coffee bar trying to come to terms with what he had just seen, and what he had just done. Noticing spots of blood on his sleeve he goes to the washroom to get rid of them. The blood isn’t his, but he knows the police will soon be searching for him, and wanting an explanation for two dead people – one a mere boy – in the basement of a house he’d vacated not that long ago.
Sam is also bothered by what he will tell the boy’s mother. Six years earlier he’d set out to find the boy, hoping to bring him back to her alive. But he had failed. That, more than anything else, troubles him greatly.
While he is scrubbing the blood from the cuff of his shirt Sam notices a piece of graffiti containing a cryptic message near a hinge on the bathroom door: I know you are, but what am I? A belligerent challenge, or a cry for help? Sheena, a twenty-something tattooed Barista with an attitude, is tending the counter. She is unable to help him identify the author of the words, so it falls to him. Sam regrets that he failed to find the boy alive and restore him to his mother. Not surprising, then, he is driven to try to identify an obviously-troubled graffiti writer and try to help her.
Thus begins the odyssey of a good man caught up in an evil world. Before it has ended Sam will enlist the improbable aid of an ageing ex-bank robber as he navigates the dark streets of Toronto, where vulnerable young women are easy prey for men who cannot see beyond their own twisted lives, all the while running from the police, who want to question him about the house with two bodies in the basement.
And as if there isn’t enough weight on his already-burdened shoulders, while Sam grapples with the troubled young woman and the looming meeting with the dead boy’s mother, he has also to care for his 80-year-old father, who is in a residential care home, unable to speak following a stroke.
Running from the Dead is the brilliant (there’s no other word for it) eighth novel of Hamilton writer Mike Knowles. It is a highly-charged tale, marked by crackling dialogue, and leavened only by brooding narration and deft use of metaphor, as in this passage in which Sam compares his race to evade the police with the behaviour of sharks:
“Sharks needed to remain in a constant state of motion in order to breathe. It didn’t matter how much water was around—if the shark stopped swimming it would suffocate in the middle of the ocean…[F]or the same reason he was driving across the city on a Monday—it kept him from stopping. If he stopped, if he lost momentum, it would mean confronting the inevitable, and…Jones had a week before the inevitable became unavoidable. Seven days—his own Shark Week—unless he stopped moving."
Readers in search of a compelling tale, effortlessly told, will find much to admire in what is a true story for our times. Another fine work from the folks at ECW Press, further cementing their reputation as one of the premier publishers in Canada.
Running from The Dead is published by ECW Press. _______
Jim Napier is a professional crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites. His crime novel Legacy was published in April of 2017, and the second in the series, Ridley’s War, is scheduled for release in the late summer of 2020. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org