Book Report: For these two titles, you may end up reading without a break
"Death on Cache Lake," by Dan Woll and John W. Lyon (Romeii LLC, $14.99), is available in bookstores, at Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and on a website at www.danwoll.com.
It's a humdinger of a thriller, told with great style and, unlike many thrillers, with a sense of purpose.
It all begins when John, an elementary school teacher in a small Wisconsin town, gets a note from his buddy Caleb that he's in trouble and needs John's help.
John, who is something of a mess since his faithless wife died in a car accident, takes leave of Wisconsin and heads for Caleb's hideout in the frozen wastes of Ontario.
Eventually the reader discovers that a rogue group within the FBI is tracking Caleb, who has evidence that the FBI had instigated the 1970 bombing of the University of Wisconsin science building that resulted in the death of a researcher. Why would anyone in the FBI want to do such a thing?
That's the question John must answer and answer he does after a series of brutal chases, escapes, sexual escapades, barroom brawls, run-ins with various and frightening jackpine savages.
The compelling story is told in exquisite detail by Woll and Lyon, who are friends, Wisconsin teaching colleagues and sports enthusiasts.
I'm no hunter or fisherman, but once I got started with John and Caleb holed up for a winter in an old cabin in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park, I couldn't put it down.
Think Robinson Crusoe leaves America's Dairyland for Ontario. You'll see what I mean.
Woll, recently retired as administrator of St. Croix Central High School, says that it all began when Woll sent Lyon a vignette about a harrowing canoe trip the two had taken years ago.
They agreed it needed to be lengthened into a novel, which both worked on until Lyon's death. (In humorous biographical sketches at book's end, both claimed that the other guy wrote "the naughty parts."
Never mind. Not all literary collaborations are as successful as this one.
I recall reading "The Gilded Age," written by Mark Twain and his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner, in which it's easy to figure out who wrote what chapter in this cumbersome two-volume novel.
Not so "Death on Cache Lake," which is seamless in its artistry. The authors effortlessly switch from third person to first person to tell a story that's humorous, poignant, and politically astute.
With its scene setting, its vibrant characters and the true-to-life intrigue, "Death on Cache Lake" would make a wonderful movie.
"Defending Jacob," by William Landy (Delacorte Press, $26) is no ordinary police procedural.
Award-winner Landy spent years as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts and this, his third novel, shows off his knowledge of the courtroom in ways that invoke comparisons to John Grisham.
Much of the novel is set in a Massachusetts courtroom with the mandatory examinations and cross-examinations, and our hero, Andy Barber, explaining the inner workings of the criminal justice system.
But there's much more to it than that. There's a philosophical strain that runs through the novel from its very beginning, when Landy, quotes from Reynard Thompson's "A General Theory of Human Violence," written in 1921:
"Let us be practical in our expectations of the Criminal Law...(for) we have merely to imagine, by some trick of time travel, meeting our earliest hominid ancestry, Adam, a proto-man, short of stature, luxuriantly furred, newly bipedal, foraging about on the African savannah three million or so years ago. Now, let us agree that we may pronounce whatever laws we like for this clever little creature, still it would be unwise to pet him."
And then it's into the courtroom, Andy Barber sits on the witness stand as his colleague, another ADA, quizzes him about his 14-year-old son, Jacob, who is accused of murdering his middle school classmate, Ben Rifkin.
Andy's between a rock and a hard place because even his wife, Jacob's mother, believes the kid is guilty.
The case is ruining the Barbers' family life when, suddenly, another suspect signs a confession to the murder, then hangs himself. Jacob is set free.
But that's not the end of the story.
To celebrate, Andy takes his wife and Jacob to a Jamaican resort, where young Jacob meets and falls for a girl named Hope.
Hope disappears, and later washes up on the beach, casting suspicion once again on Jacob. That's when things get REALLY complicated, and so it's back to the courtroom for a surprise ending.