Monday, August 18, 2008

Nelson DeMille: Spencerville

I enjoyed Nelson DeMille’s Spencerville fourteen years ago, so decided to read it again. It is pure escapism, and enjoyable for that. I remembered a guy, a girl, a romantic attachment, and a corrupt cop that they were trying to get away from.

Well, the guy is Keith Landry. After 25 years of service as a “Cold Warrior” he is forcibly retired as part of the “Peace Dividend”. So he leaves Washington and returns to his family farm outside Spencerville, Ohio. He has recently been on the staff of the National Security Council, but has background as an infantry officer and an undercover intelligence operative. So we can assume he is resourceful.

The girl is Annie Baxter, currently married to Cliff Baxter, the Spencerville Chief of Police. Her son is in college, and her daughter is just leaving to start college. Cliff is an unpleasant husband. He is a domineering controlling type who does not trust her, and monitors her every move.

Cliff Baxter is also unpleasant as a Chief of Police. He is completely corrupt, and maintains tight control on the town. He controls the upper levels of society with illegal files and blackmail. He controls the lower end through intimidation. He has a hand-picked staff of cops who are almost as sadistic as he is. They enjoy their part in intimidating and harassing the public.

The romance is an old story. Keith and Annie were high school and college sweethearts. They drifted apart when Keith went to Vietnam and Annie went to grad school. Ultimately Annie returned to Spencerville, and as we have seen, married Cliff Baxter. But Keith and Annie still care for one another after all these years. But there are obvious roadblocks, like marriage to a jealous man, keeping them apart. But Keith does decide to help Annie leave Cliff. And this drives the action to a thrilling climax at the end.

A fun bit part is played by Jeffrey and Gail Porter. They are 60s radicals, recently retired after being left-wing college professors. Jeffery and Keith were good friends until the politics of the Vietnam era drove them apart. It’s fun to see them reconcile as mature adults.

There are two parts of the story that I have a hard time with. First, why hadn’t Annie gotten out of town and filed for divorce long ago? And how does a police chief really recruit officers that will be willing to flout the law any time he asks. It's obvious that he is using them to watch his wife, why don't they object? But if you just accept those areas and get on with the story, Spencerville is a good read. By the second half, it is hard to put down.

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