John Rock, editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in Hermano, California, has his doubts about Wendover Development Corporation. It plans to open a resort on Wendover Island but hasn’t obtained the necessary permits. John, fearing the company will sell shares for land that will never be developed, writes an article scrutinizing the company’s approach. There’s some backlash: Local businessman and chamber of commerce president George Slater pulls his ads from the paper and, Rock suspects, persuades others to do the same. It only gets worse, as Joe Frachia, manager of the marina where John’s live-in boat is docked and whom John already suspects of shady late-night boat runs, beats up the newspaperman. And when someone is found dead, the evidence points to John. The author opens his book with panache: Readers quickly learn that someone has been killed, John is the likely suspect, and his girlfriend, Suzy, had been kidnapped. The story then backtracks to the start of John’s ordeal, deriving suspense from Suzy’s plight. Cox excels at establishing an engrossing protagonist and setting: John has a healthy gun collection, but tormented by inadvertently killing a young boy in Vietnam, he hasn’t fired at a living thing for years; and though the time frame is unclear, the small-town paper utilizes delightfully old-fashioned techniques, e.g., John’s typewriter and physically laying out the newspaper by waxing stories, ads and pictures onto the pages. There are also elements of a classic detective story, including scenes in which John is roughed up. Readers will likely see where the story’s going once John has been framed and has to find his way out of the jam, but Cox deftly keeps the story interesting by throwing in a shocking, sudden explosion, more than one shootout, and even a high-speed chase on water.
Old school, much like John’s newspaper, though its triumph owes more to the author’s competent voice than simple nostalgia.