Two that are new! Meaning: Here is another double-deal pair of thrillers from Stark House but not a duo of dusted-off classics (not that there is ANY problem whatsover with the vintage gems brought to light by this top-tier indie press). No, Stark House’s own Rick Ollerman is revealing new dimensions of his multi-faceted self. Not only does he work devotedly behind the scenes helping to further the cause of crime fic through his efforts on Stark House’s publishings of vintage mysteries, thrillers and more, but he also proves his mettle out in front as an author with this sleek set of two mean, murderous suspensers.
The only thing shallow about SHALLOW SECRETS is the first word in the title. Past that, it’s an intelligent attention-grabber with the finger strength to keep its throat-grip on the reader from alpha to omega. And the ride from thither to yon, the careening pack of pages between the aforementioned alpha and this novel’s ominous omega, is loaded with left turns that balk at blinkers. Shocks are administered, the bottom drops out, riveting reveals slap the face – the reader, in short, is destined to a demented ride through serial-slaying sociopathology and territorial pissings among feds, freaks and cops current and ex.
The story slews here and there, zig-zagging like a running dodging a sniper – it’s a story outstripping the outguessing of would-be crime-solving perusers. Apparently disparate plot elements taunt with the seeming impossibility of adding things up while snapping together tighter than the bricks in a freemason’s arch, balancing like a perfect checkbook after all. In fact, it adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts. We’ve all, crime nuts that we are, read various and sundry books about all kinds of cops (and ex-cops) and psychos and grumpy feds and all the assorted plot twists in which they become entangled, but SHALLOW SECRETS never feels like a book you’ve read before. That adding up I mentioned … ? Well, the seeming refusal of it all to even allow for the possibility of dot-connecting makes for gripping reading and page-turning of a velocity to cause paper cuts, friction burns and scorched paper. Ollerman’s cerebral creativity keeps things off-balanced, but pleasantly so, and refreshing, as well, with all the stubborn parts coalescing with surprising and complete cohesion in a denouement rather unlike comparable conclusions in other heart-racers. Tied up and held at gun-point is one thing, but you’d be surprised what a sinkhole can do to liven things up. And it’s not just a convenient way to add production value, so to speak, to the ending of a fine, fine novel. No, it’s a central and archetypal symbol of this book.
But before I get too astray on philosophical and psychological musings, let’s get back to the math, to the adding up. As in, there’s more adding up to address, in one more context. In the course of SHALLOW SECRET’s plot, which twists more than a mountain highway, dead bodies drop like corpse-dominoes falling in a Raymond Chandler novel. Between the copious corpses and the rigorous plot, one can’t help but wonder if the great one of which we speak hasn’t said, “Farwell, my lovely,” to the slumber of death and awakened from “the big sleep” to whisper inspirations through the veil and into the waiting ear of Mr. Ollerman. Who’s your muse, Rick? Are we reading The Hard-Boiled Gospel According to Rick & Ray?
Could be. Consider if you will the other novel in this damned good duo of thriller-dillers, TURNABOUT. While more soft-boiled in the strictest genre sense, this one is no less substantial than SHALLOW SECRETS, and, like its companion piece, TURNABOUT accomplishes meaty storytelling with deft prose with Hermes’ wings on its feet. These books’ body mass index is leaner than the tower in Pisa. Such tight prose, however, never loses its natural flow, nor does it seem rushed – just fast-paced, as it should be. The pacing performs beautifully conveying TURNABOUT’s more tech-heavy tale. Translating tech to layman-speak while also keeping not just base reader attention but also reader interest is a noteworthy feat, and Ollerman succeeds with flying colors in this computer-centric tale of intrigue.
TURNABOUT is less grisly on the whole but is no less disturbing. The small but gruesome details that pepper the stealthy sleuthing in which the main characters engage make for a story that is more subtle than SHALLOW SECRETS but no less unsettling. Besides the financial shenanigans afoot and the given willingness of said master of shenanigans to do what it takes to keep the aforementioned shenanigans from seeing the light of day, there is the matter of a pair of dirty as hell and meaner than snake spit police officers with hard-ons to solve the case before any other prospective case-crackers.
… So bad they can taste it! That’s how much they want it. Bad enough to resort to unsanctioned measures.
Beyond that? Who the hell knows what else might be afoot?
You will, if you take the time to read TURNABOUT – and its pal SHALLOW SECRETS. It will be time well-spent. With both TURNABOUT and SHALLOW SECRETS, Rick Ollerman challenges Chandler by indulging in the same plot complexities and corpse pile-ups as the grandmaster and serving up the whole dire lot with lithe prose, lucid storytelling and the assemblage of real-as-life flesh-and-blood characters. The crime corner of the reading world deserves to know about this author and here, in one volume, is two fantastic ways to find him out.