|Chief David Dean|
When I began David Dean's The Thirteenth Child, I didn't know what to expect. I'd admired the Baroque cover art and read David's article of a semi-feral child who haunted his neighborhood, but all I'd heard were rumors that it wasn't really a paranormal novel, which sort of hints at paranormal elements, doesn't it? I mean if someone says Mr. Soprag isn't really an alcoholic, you'd think umm… But when Fran and David say it, I believe them.
Besides, I know David Dean is a good writer from his stories in Ellery Queen. Thus with curiosity, I delved into the 226 page novel and I began to understand those not-really-paranormal rumors. I shy away from analogies with other writers, but the novel bears comparison with the best and most intimate of Stephen King. I won't give away anything more because I want you to discover what it's all about like I did.
The two main protagonists, Police Chief Nick Catesby and the town egghead/drunk Preston Howard, find themselves dealing with a child abductor. To clarify, the Police Chief tries to find the abductor and Preston is trying not to be taken for the perpetrator and not succeeding very well. To further confuse the situation, Chief Catesby tangles with office politics and becomes caught up in a relationship with Preston's daughter, Fanny.
She's a sweetly fetching daughter, and here the author paints an appealing picture of the girl next door– kind, intelligent, patient, generous, and unfortunately long-suffering when it comes to her father. One of the wonderful lines from the novel is that she doesn't stop forgiving because she can't stop loving. She's someone we want to know, the woman who cushions the hard edges of society and life.
The author enhances the texture of the plot with an underlying fabric of history, making the plot a richer experience. Dean sets scenes well– we see and feel the woods, an abandoned rail line, the inside of a church, the room where Preston lives, and a mouldering burial crypt. The author adeptly builds an atmosphere of menace.
At one point, the peril from two teen boys feels more immediately deadly than the perpetrator. The story perfectly captures the essence of young bullies. The reader has no doubt any of the three will kill, but the perpetrator is what he is, albeit with a scheme of his own, while the teen boys choose to be cruel.
The author, a Jersey Shore police chief, gives the reader confidence he knows the policing side of the case, and he manages it subtly without drowning us in procedural details. All in all, he creates a town we'd love to live in, at least when Chief Catesby is on duty and David Dean is there to tell the story.
If you like classic Stephen King, you'll love David Dean's The Thirteenth Child. It's murderously good.