Jeffrey Friedberg’s Red, White, and Dead is a new thriller that reintroduces detective Jack Vane to readers in this prequel to Friedberg’s popular Lost Relic of the Gods. Set in New Mexico, and reading like a travelogue with dramatic adventures at landmarks throughout the state, this non-stop action adventure is sure to please Friedberg’s growing fan base.
The story begins when private eye Jack Vane is having a quiet meeting at an outdoor café with Yaakov Irgun, mob kingpin. Irgun has just ordered Jack to find the ancient lost treasure of Spanish Conquistador Francisco Coronado, which may not even exist. Before Jack can argue about such an impossible task, Irgun and he are attacked by armed young Muslim extremists. In self-defense, Jack pulls his gun and kills the young men.
When the media goes wild, claiming the extremists were innocent and did not have real weapons, Jack is accused of being an out-of-control, trigger-happy killer. Jack soon agrees to go on a television news program to defend himself. Frustrated by how the reporters misconstrue his words and will not listen to his explanations, he rises to his feet and stumbles, causing everyone to freak out and believe he is preparing to shoot up the room. Following the show, the media guests start showing up dead, and Jack is caught on video performing criminal acts. Jack begins to doubt his own sanity, thinking he may be having blackouts, or questioning whether his dead and buried twin brother has risen from the grave. Jack’s hatred of the media makes his task onerous, but he is determined to find the killer, and possibly Coronado’s treasure. The adventure that follows is one that readers will never forget!
Set against a marvelous New Mexico background, Jack soon finds himself battling a kick-ass ex-girlfriend who wants him dead, doing stunts for movie star Pal Kellmer, and befriended by Vladimir Stalin, son of Joseph Stalin’s illegitimate son, who saves him in a death-defying rescue. The action quickly moves across the New Mexico landscape from an eagle’s nest compound three-thousand feet above Albuquerque, “which itself spread out to the horizons like a thin brown carpet under hot blue haze,” to archeological digs at ancient pueblo sites, and from the Rio Grande to Albuquerque’s Cottonwood Mall and a dramatic episode involving the Sandia Peak aerial tramway. As if on a rollercoaster tour of New Mexico, Jack has near misses with death in one location after another until the stunning denouement.
While I kept turning the page, eager to find out what would happen next and how Jack would get out of each predicament, what I most enjoyed was the crisp, witty dialogue and the humor throughout the book. Even when Friedberg is taking on the media, politics, and political correctness, he does so with a sense of humor that bites but never ceases to entertain. Here is just a sampling of the repartee Jack has with many of the other characters; this conversation is with the stunningly gorgeous Tiffany Chablis, a UPS store owner who wants Jack to fall in love with her and who insists on helping him on a dangerous mission:
“I want to go with you.”
“You can’t, Tiffany.”
“I like Santa Fe. Why can’t I go?”
“Because you’re the UPS lady and Santa Fe might be dangerous.”
“I could watch your back.”
“I could distract the enemy.”
“I could close out your undercover UPS box address, and all your ID and credit cards will be s***, Jack.”
Anyone who loves the Southwest will find this new thriller a treat for its dramatic use of well-known settings, and anyone who loves an on-the-edge-of-your-seat story with good dialogue and enough plot twists to make James Bond a bore is going to love Red, White, and Dead. And once finished, the reader will be impatient to read Friedberg’s upcoming sequel, Red, White, and Dead Again. I can’t wait for the blockbuster action film starring Val Kilmer — I hope Hollywood is listening.