by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 3, 2009
LONG DISTANCE CARE
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 5, 2009 -- Remember Tim McVeigh, the former soldier who teamed up with a military buddy and bombed the Albert J. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 163 people? It happened just nine days after The American Reporter began publication, and it remains unforgettable.
If the background to that event and the possibility of more of them happening today - as we suppose they already have on a tiny scale - Terry Pellman's easy and insightful read, "Averton," is worth your time.
Set in a small Ohio town where almost everyone knows almost everyone else, this is a book about friends and strangers - and a few who are one and the same. Kelly Hasting is assistant chief of police in this burg, and his best friends, Frank and ate Norwood, are the town's leading lights. Frank Norwood owns the foundry, and Kate is a retired woman who is fast friends with Kelly's wife, Molly.
The settled life of this small town is utterly changed in a few minutes one night when a pair of apparent teenagers bomb the local power station (shades of my childhood friend, ex-policeman Joe Harper, who blew up a substation in Central Valley, N.Y., to play the hero for being the first to discover it; he's in prison now). Minutes later, a man whom Pellman indicts as careless and arrogant goes to the local armory and blows that up. As you'd imagine, CNN is not far behind either of them, and the town is a media sensation everywhere.
Kelly Hasting's job of catching the culprits is made more difficult by the apparent care they all took to conceal themselves from the ubiquitous surveillance cameras that peer down the dark alleys of Homeland America. That in turn is tough on his kind and thoughtful wife, and the strain of the crisis and its unsolved crimes - a good friend of theirs died as a result - sends the pair more and more often to the nearby home of Frank and Kate Norwood, who is the town's biggest employer as the owner of a foundry.
Frank, it turns out, has an idea: he wants to form a group that would become a model for others like it in small towns across America, taking up the slack for overworked local police forces and empowering citizens who might otherwise cower in their homes or leave the small towns depopulated.
The only problem is that arms are involved, and so are a group of strangers Frank Norwood brings to town to help him with this task. That makes the assistant chief uneasy, and when he trips over a few oddments associated with one of the men, he takes his concerns to the police chief, an older man who has been hiding a case of incurable cancer from everyone.
Calvin Meyers, an FBI agent based a few hours from Averton in Cleveland, is the federal man on the case, and he's mostly as stumped as Kelly Hastings is. When the old chief dies and Kelly Hastings takes his place, it's a sad rite of passage that no one can celebrate. Now Kelly is virtually without friends except his wife, Frank and Kate, and the latter two start to worry him, too, as background checks and old associations are unearthed through the FBI and Kelly's own questions.
Meanwhile, as if his life were not sufficiently complicated, Frank's niece, a red-headed beauty named Laura, moves into Averton to open a bookstore Frank has paid for. Kelly has been faithful to Molly from day one, but the charms and mystery of Laura erode his better instincts and they begin an affair. When Kelly finds out that the old chief had received a warning that threatens Molly, Kelly sends her away - and then he's in Laura's arms every night, it seems. The rest of the plot unfolds appropriately.
What I like about "Averton" is that the plot is so plausible it could have been ripped right out of headlines we read today. It is not difficult to betray friends, nor is it hard to gather weapons, nor to quietly form a group of co-conspirators who would improve America by murder, bombing and other vile methods.
Frankly, our government has done a terrific job, really, of preventing such people from taking advantage of the fear and misery found in our recently impoverished and democratically challenged society. Everywhere we look, someone seems ready to take away more of our privacy and limit our civil rights, and someone else is poised to provide more of the rights and less of the privacy, all in the name of shaping our still imperfect union.
"Averton" suffers from a large number of typos, poor text editing, and an abrupt ending, although it does tie up all the loose ends except the question of who bombed the power station. I think the author either didn't feel a need to single them out - and they were pretty interesting when they began the book - or it was an oversight.
It's important, though, because Pellman didn't set out to write a series of cheap novels about the same group of post-apocalyptic would-be heroes and goons; that's a story that's been told ad nauseum., and "Averton" is better than all of them. Sadly, none of them compare even remotely to "The Road," by Cormac McCarthy, who tell it as it is. I think Pellman tried to do that in "Averton," albeit in a setting far less grim.
Pellman knows how to move a story along and keep a reader interested, and I look forward to another outside-the-box thriller from him one day.