DUNGEON MASTER: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III by William Dear
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DUNGEON MASTER: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Super suspense, by the private eye who led the search in one of the most publicized, and strangest, missing-person cases of recent times. . . and kept mum for years about the details of its ending. When Bill Dear took the case, it seemed straightforward enough: Dallas Egbert, a shy and socially backward 16-year-old computer prodigy, had vanished during the 1979 summer term at Michigan State University. The alternatives appeared clear--suicide, murder, runaway, kidnap, or hoax. But soon after Dear's arrival at MSU, the plot thickened, and then some. Young Dallas, it turned out: was gay; had regularly experimented with drugs; engaged in a highly-dangerous pastime called ""trestling"" (lying flattened between railroad tracks, or hanging from a bridge, while trains passed over); and was addicted to the fantasy game of ""Dungeons and Dragons,"" which he and other MSU students (and, it seems, professors) played in the labyrinth of steam tunnels below the campus. Once the D&D connection became clear, Dear and his team knew they had to get into the tunnels, which the MSU administration, stonewalling, had labeled ""inaccessible."" Permission was finally granted; and Dear's account of the foot-by-foot search of the tunnel maze (over eight miles of pitch-black corridors, temperature 130°) is the creepy centerpiece of the book--though the search turned up nothing concrete. Meanwhile, various leads, particularly in the gay community, began to pay off--with an anonymous caller offering to arrange for Dallas to be found. . . if there were assurances of no prosecution. Ultimately, Dear complied, and picked up an exhausted, broken Dallas Egbert in a Louisiana oil-field town. Friendless and maladjusted at MSU, he had ""planned just to go somewhere and kill myself"": an unsuccessful suicide attempt in the tunnels, after which he was passed around a segment of the gay community like a prize for several weeks, then shipped out to New Orleans via Chicago when things got too hot in East Lansing. Dear's account of his own contribution to the case is well-balanced, though he is scathing on MSU's laissez-faire policy: ""Could not some caring, competent person have taken Dallas under his wing?"" No happy ending, either: Dallas Egbert succeeded in killing himself a year later. One of the better real-life suspense books in a long time.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin