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THE FIRST VICTIM by Ridley Pearson

THE FIRST VICTIM

By Ridley Pearson

Pub Date: July 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7868-6440-0
Publisher: Hyperion

            The smuggling of illegal aliens may be big business, but it makes for a surprisingly flat thriller for Seattle Police Lt. Lou Boldt (The Pied Piper, 1998, etc.).

            Delayed and threatened by a Pacific typhoon, the container ship Visage loses one of its containers overboard.  When the Coast Guard picks it up, the officers on the scene – including Boldt, his Crimes Against Persons successor Sgt. John LaMoia, and INS agent Brian Coughlie – open it to find nine Chinese women sealed inside, together with the corpses of three others dead of hunger, thirst, and fever.  While the Seattle cops and the INS gear up for another of Pearson’s trademark jurisdictional scuffles, Channel 4 news anchor Stevie McNeal is persuading her adoptive sister, freelance reporter Melissa Chow, to follow a slender lead to the location of the sweatshops and brothels that the illegals were bound for.  But the trail Melissa follows turns unexpectedly hot, and she suddenly decides to go deep undercover, passing herself off as another enslaved immigrant in the sweatshop she’s found.  As days pass without any word from Melissa, Boldt’s leads start to die:  the captain of the Visage, a construction-gear manager who knew too much about the unloading of the ship, and finally the bent state employee whose suspicious spending patterns had given Stevie her first promise of a story.  Meantime, Boldt, still chafing behind the desk he’s been promoted to, has nothing better to do than keep interviewing Mama Lu, doyenne of the Chinese business community, and get maddeningly Delphic responses.  Pearson keeps spicing the pot with interspersed announcements (“Friday, August 28:  11 Days Missing”) and flashbacks to Stevie’s childhood with her Little Sister, but never makes Melissa, or the traffic in illegals, seem worth ruining your manicure. 

            Not even Pearson’s niftiest action sequences can make up for the ho-hum forensics, the colorless villain, and the absence of any real urgency in the rescue.  The master of the big-league police thriller has struck out in his own park.  ($250,000 ad/promo; author tour)