Book review: The Pied Piper by Ridley Pearson

The Pied Piper
by Ridley Pearson
Orion, pb 2004 (first published 2003)
Boldt & Matthews #5

Although this is fifth in a series, it’s the first book by this author I’ve read. The setting is Seattle, and the story concerns the city cops who are investigating the kidnapping of a baby while the parents have gone out for the evening, leaving their two infants in the care of a babysitter. The police quickly connect the case to a spate of similar abductions that have been going on across the country – in fact Sheila Hill, their commander, has anticipated this event by setting up a task force to be ready and waiting.

Over the next 550 pages the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride as the investigators pore over every detail of forensic evidence in their desperate attempt to apprehend the perpetrator(s). The attempt is desperate because the local police are driven to solve the mystery on their own, without the interference of the FBI taskforce that is already working on the case. It is, of course, impossible to keep them out of it, so the two teams work in parallel with a daily meeting to share what has been found over the past 24 hours. There is a lot of petty politics, in which both sides keep information back, either not logging it at all or waiting until after the joint meeting to do so.

After 200 pages and one further abduction, the case turns very personal in a nasty plot twist. Although the preface and the cover blurb of the book both reveal this twist, I shan’t do so here, as it changes the entire direction of the book as well as the moral perspective of the participants, and would spoil the reader’s experience to know it in advance.

The main strength of this book is the ensemble nature of the storytelling. The novel is in the tradition of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, as we follow the personal lives and concerns of various police officers as well as their working practices. There are thrills and tensions aplenty, in a printed equivalent of Hill St Blues or The Wire, as the case widens out into a brilliantly described narcotics bust as well as many other elements too numerous to describe here, including intelligence-gathering, computers and psychology. At the same time, there is sex and tragedy in spades as the all-too-human cast of characters determine in unpredictable ways how events will turn out.

The main conundrum, that of how the Pied Piper manages to stay one step ahead of his or her sophisticated trackers, is solved in a way that I found extremely unlikely, but even so it works within the piled-on, ratcheted-up excitements and cliff-hangers of the plot. The way in which the investigation is hampered by the inter-agency rivalry is much more believable, and adds to the emotional temperature of the book. Although I don’t think the author needed 550 pages to tell his story, which would have benefited from good editing, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel – which at its heart is an excellent crime thriller – and shall definitely be reading more in the series.

I bought my copy of this book. I discovered it via a recommendation by Keishon of Yet Another Crime Fiction blog. Her reflections on the book are here.

I can’t find any other reviews of this book that are worth reading, but I see that the 3-CD audio version is considered to be far too heavily abridged by more than one reviewer.

Author’s website. He’s written many novels including this series – the titles and reading order of which are listed at the website, and at Wikipedia.

13 thoughts on “Book review: The Pied Piper by Ridley Pearson

  1. Omigosh, a good review of a 550-page thriller type book. I must wait on this, as I’m in the midst of Hour of the Wolf, with Sjowall/Wahloo, Gail Bowen and Andrea Camilleri books stacked right near my reading spot, not to mention the TBR Alps and TBR gargantuan list.. These posts of recommended books come by so fast I’m dazed — in a very good way.
    In regard to your question about books on Mexico at FF, I have came across, but not read The Dead Women of Juarez, by Sam Hawken. It’s a thriller-type, but based on the very real murders of young women in Juarez, Mexico, in an as yet unsolved crime epidemic. This book came to mind as I read another article in this weekend’s New York Times about 65 or so more young women murdered in that city in this year alone, all unsolved. I may read this novel to see if I can gain more insights on this horrific situation. Thought you and other readers might be interested in that.
    And I sent a a friend, an Indridason fan, your Eurocrime review of Black Skies and think that this time she’ll buy it and my credit card can have a break. But these books are so good I cannot wait for the library to get them. These and Camilleri’s…no will power at all here. .

    • Thanks for your comment, Kathy! Yes the mountain is reaching the Moon……;-) I have read various reviews of The Dead Women of…(had forgotten that when I asked the question about Mexican crime at FF) but I don’t think I have the strength to read it or the Don Winslow. I know it is a terrible situation, and I probably “should” read about it, but I think maybe I can’t face it.

      I hope you and your friend like the Indridason book as much as I did. I have to say it is “my kind of crime novel”, so I hope others do enjoy it too and it isn’t “just me”.

  2. I read this entire series a long time ago and remember really liking it. I was living in Seattle at the time, and I remember giving the door locks an extra check at night before going to bed — that’s how creepy his killer was to me.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Nancy, it encourages me to read on. (Keishon noted that it is OK to start here, which is a relief to me as I’ve recently started at #1 of several good but very long series.) I know what you mean about the creepiness, it was very (too?) well done in terms of realism…how easy it was for these babies to be taken & then hidden.

  3. Maxine – Thanks as ever for an excellent review. This really does sound like an absorbing book. One of the things that appeals to me about it is Pearson’s use of multiple viewpoints. It’s not easy to do that well, but when it is done well it adds to the story. The Seattle setting seems interesting too – or maybe that’s just because I was there once and enjoyed my stay.

    But…please, please don’t get me started on publisher’s blurbs that reveal a major plot twist. That’s a pet peeve of mine, so I especially appreciate that you don’t do so on your blog.

    • Thanks, Margot. This was a particularly awful one, which ranks with the one on Michael Connelly’s Nine Dragons….why on Earth would someone read a book, knowing what happens? Luckily for me, I know not to read the things.

  4. Not a series I’ve heard of but I do like Ed McBain so perhaps I will give it a go. I don’t like the idea of a baby kidnap 😦 but it all depends how it is done. 550 pages does sound long!

    • No, I don’t either, but the book focuses entirely on the police (& other investigative) perspectives apart from one or two small passages of parental worry. I’m very sensitive to this subject & there is a lot less here than other books I’ve read with this plot.

  5. I sympathize on the parental worries and would find a missing baby a tough plot line, but this looks like a good thriller. If I could read 550 pages, with my TBR Alps piles and lists, I’d give this a go.
    I am reading Hour of the Wolf, very well-written as always by Hakan Nesser, but it is so incredibly sad that I need to take breaks with distractions.

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  8. Nice review and am glad you enjoyed it Maxine! I’ve only read two books in this series. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

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