Pearson gives Seattle cop Lou Boldt (Middle of Nowhere, 2000, etc.) a well-earned sabbatical to concentrate on the high-speed pursuit of a vengeful saboteur obsessed with wrecking trains.
It’s not all high-speed, of course. In fact, the first stages of the exposition, as uneasy allies investigate the consequences of what might have seemed a routine fight between a pair of hoboes aboard a Northern Union Railroad boxcar, are positively sluggish. Pearson reveals early on that one of the boxcar battlers is Umberto Alvarez, a former grade-school science teacher now bent on derailing Northern Union freight trains—six so far—as a prelude to gracing the F-A-S-T Track passenger express between New York and Washington. Since Alvarez seems too decent a fellow to raise many shivers, however, about all that powers the opening scenes is ex–homicide cop Peter Tyler’s suspicions of Nell Priest, the Northern Union security officer he’s been paired with, and his worries that his temporary position as an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board will lead nowhere, leaving him stuck in debt after his assault on a murderous child abuser threw him off the force. But once Tyler learns that the victim in the boxcar scuffle was no ordinary hobo, and that Nell knew his identity but withheld it from Tyler, the tale picks up speed. And when Tyler, realizing that Alvarez’s position is uncomfortably like his own, shares his misgivings about the manhunt with the Northern Union brass only to be dropped into the soup, Pearson works this man-on-the-run episode like a pro—as if you didn’t already know that the climax would put the resourceful saboteur, the dogged cop, and the rest of the cast on the bullet train hurtling toward D.C. at 180 miles an hour.
Stick with the slow opening movement and you’ll be rewarded with a bravura display of acceleration, even before the call for that fatal train.