ISBN: 9781617505119

Wow! I read the Prologue and decided I wasn’t going to like this book. Then I read Chapter One and was hooked. I read Chapters Two and Three. I had to put it down and do other things, but took it up again at bedtime, waking in the morning to find I had left my light on and my Kindle still beside me.

You might be, like me, turned off by gangster land and torture chambers. And, like me, you’ll fall hopelessly in love with Peter Talbott, a computer dude working for Symbiotic Software in Boston, who gets mixed up with slimeballs and scumbags because he still loves his wife Terri, who died young of cancer. Soon afterward, our hero reads his own obituary. It’s a case of mistaken identity and he thinks it is cleared up until he reads another obituary for the both of them, described as car accident victims.

That’s when protecting Terri’s memory becomes his obsession and drives him to Columbus, Ohio, where he stumbles onto more fake deaths and a major mafia operation. He has to hitchhike to Chicago. From that point on, all modes of transportation come into play.

The blood and guts guys are kept in comic book proportions as Talbott and a ballsy girl photographer pursue justice by attempting to expose the guys who flash phony FBI and Justice Department badges. But is the real U.S. Government involved? It takes contact with a Senator for whom Sandy licked envelopes to know for sure.

I especially liked the juxtaposition of familiar and weird details in the Chicago scenes. Imagine bringing an injured man to a cozy suburban house with a swing on the porch, geraniums, Spider-Man curtains in the kid’s room windows — and four Chinese men in surgical garb greet you in the alley. Brown’s originality peaks in his use of one of the most bizarre weapons you could imagine ('bet you can’t).

He writes a good romance, too, psychologically deep and yet amusing. The clever, kick-butt Sandy accompanies Pete all the way back to Boston, New York and D.C. They are constantly changing their disguises, once buying jeans and sweatshirts from a woman at a Laundromat. They become friendly in a compartment on Amtrak, and then spend a night sleeping soundly between vegetables on a semi trailer.

Brown has a crazy imagination, but there are enough references to familiar landmarks in these cities that you will submit to realistic possibilities.

The plot races against time. There’s a deadline, the day Talbott promised to get back to the office. He seems to be indispensable there. More immediate is the need to escape from and report on the killers. In setting his pace, the author trips up about three times near the front when he has perfect strangers reveal a ton more information than normal people do. I know Midwesterners are friendly and trusting (I am one), but these characters were drawn as tough and suspicious — so that made me cringe.

The proliferating spaghetti mob kind of overwhelmed me; too many names with too many of the third vowel (there’s no other way to say that).

Otherwise — nothing spoiled the fun. Bill Brown is a smart, tight writer who still manages to provide lavish description. In The Undertaker, he gives birth to some really fascinating characters (most of whom I would never want to meet).

This is not Bill Brown’s first thriller; he wrote The Allah Conspiracy and Thursday at Noon (a prestigious Joan Kahn Book at St. Martin’s). These are both out of print but about to be reissued, and he has two more new thrillers coming in 2011. Keep in touch by signing up for alerts from

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