County Line, Bill Cameron’s latest thriller begins in Portland, when retired cop, Skin Kadash, discovers the body of an elderly homeless man in a bathtub in the apartment of the woman (Ruby Jane Whittaker) he is in love with after she herself has mysteriously disappeared — and then sets the detective off on a frantic trek across the country to find the woman and discover the secrets of her past. Caught up in his own personal feelings for the girl, Kadash’s search is something less than professional. He runs off on what seem to be half baked wild goose chases. He hooks up with her ex-boyfriend, Pete McKrall, an old friend of his, and gets talked into carting him along as a kind of Sancho Panza to his own Don Quixote. Rather than operating as a carefully objective investigator, he is caught up is his own emotional attachments. Kadash is not one of these machine-like master minds that populate so many of the popular thrillers of the day.
As portrayed by Cameron, Kadash is not one of these overwhelming forces of nature; he is a fairly normal human being who makes his share of mistakes even as he doggedly pursues his prey. There is an essential realism to a character who functions on this kind of human level. At the very beginning he manages to get his pocket picked by a man leaving his girl friend’s coffee shop. His car gets stolen. He is no physical powerhouse. He runs away from an intruder at Ruby’s apartment. He is, after all, no spring chicken. Moreover, he isn’t even good looking. He keeps talking about his red neck, and Pete keeps referring to him as the elephant man. Presumably, Cameron is more explicit about Kadash’s appearance and its causes in some of his earlier novels. County Line is after all one of a series, and there will be questions for readers coming to the characters for the first time.
Part two of the novel picks up Ruby’s back story: her dysfunctional family, her problems with school and her attempt at escape through basketball. It deals with a period some twenty odd years prior to the first part when Ruby is a teenager, and something of a loner. Her parents are both drunks and have no use for each other or for Ruby and her older brother. Although it doesn’t provide all the answers to Ruby’s disappearance, it does begin to explain some of the mystery. While the first part of the story is Kadash’s first person narrative, part two uses a limited third person narrative from the point of view of Ruby. The novel ends with a third part that goes back to Kadash’s narrative and takes the reader to a satisfying conclusion.
Cameron is an effective story teller. He is adept at weaving plot elements to create suspense and keep the reader turning pages. His characters are multi-dimensional, and rarely cliché. If their behavior doesn’t always seem reasonable, rational behavior is not necessarily a hallmark the genre. A good story told with panache goes a long way to making up for a little irrationality, and Cameron tells a good story.