by Simon Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In Simon Wood’s crime thriller, ‘Paying the Piper‘ (Thomas & Mercer 2012) reporter Scott Fleetwood does what no news person should ever do: Become the story. When he inadvertently causes the death of a child by falling for the story of a man who claims to be the insidious serial kidnapper, the Piper, the real Piper becomes furious and for the first time, kills his captive. Fleetwood blames himself and struggles to rebuild his life and self-image, but never truly comes to terms with his personal responsibility in the death of a child.
When the Piper returns eight years later after an unexpected hiatus, his target this time is Fleetwood’s twin sons. Now, Fleetwood must pair up with the same FBI agent, Sheils, who failed to catch the Piper last time and who blames the reporter for the child’s death. The question is, why Fleetwood? In the past, the Piper always took children of rich parents who could pay huge ransoms, always returning the children unharmed, well-cared for, but Fleetwood isn’t wealthy. He must hock everything he owns and more to come up with the required money. He manages this only to find that the Piper wants more than money. This time, he wants retribution for the plot Fleetwood spoiled.
Wood is a solid writer, his craft well-developed through the ten books he has published. The action in ‘Paying the Piper’ is non-stop and believable. The plot is well-crafted and original, the story arc a parabola rather than a gentle curve, with the mind-wrenching twists and turns of Lombard Street to keep the reader’s stomach off-balance. But there are a few issues that highlight the remaining immaturity of Wood’s writing skills (I’ve read several of his books and can see growth in his story-telling skills, with each book a little better than the last). First, Sheils confused me. Wood went to great prosaic lengths to convince the reader that the agent wouldn’t allow the festering memories of losing the Piper due to Fleetwood’s interference affect the agent, but within paragraphs, Sheils throws logic out the window in favor of irrational emotion that not only seems out of character, but is unexpected from the top notch FBI agent we are told Sheils is. I expected him to capitulate to the rancor, but not so quickly.
Second, I had a good bit of trouble accepting how quickly Fleetwood repeated the mistake he made eight years ago that cost a child his life. We are told over and over how much he regretted lying to the FBI, that he was never able to forgive himself. Yet, over a period of hours, he decides again to hide information that could help the FBI find his son. Again, as before, he believes his reasons are solid, but we as the reader are left wondering who this man really is.
Overall, this is a great read, with no lasting damage from the foibles. I am looking forward to reading Wood’s next book, ‘Terminated’.
Jacqui Murray is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.