Local crime novelist puts out a page-turner
Last updated 12/21/2015 at Noon
Fans of crime novels appreciate writers who understand the power of character, place and plot, and are able to mix the right proportions of those ingredients when cooking up a page-turner.
Readers will discover a tasty recipe in “Cole’s Last Chance,” the latest offering from local novelist Al Hooper. Hooper, well known to long-time Beacon readers as its former Edmonds editor, has not allowed his command of the written word to go fallow since exiting his regular newspaper gig.
Instead, he has turned his obvious love of crime novels and journalism into a new outlet for his well-honed ability to write crisp, active verse that keeps readers engaged and eager for more.
“Cole’s Last Chance,” a sequel to Hooper’s 2012 novel, “Flynn’s Last Stand,” features journalist Adam Cole, who thinks, talks and writes like a scribe who knows his craft and has that newspaperman’s eye for the story behind the story. If readers didn’t already know Hooper’s background, they might suspect he had some ink running through his veins.
“Last Chance” takes place where else? in the Great Northwest, in this case, Vancouver, B.C., during the turbulent Vietnam War era when some of America’s young men said a very loud “No!” to military service, and instead escaped to Canada where they often remained active in the anti-war cause.
Cole is an American exile who owns a one-man, barely-breathing business as an “editorial consultant,” (Hooper calls it “code for unemployed journalist.”), but also picking up a few bucks as a columnist for an alternative newspaper, the Vancouver Underground. Beacon readers will recognize the column’s title, City Lights, which was the same title Hooper used for his own Edmonds column back in the day.
The story begins when a pair of suspect characters walk into Cole’s office, looking for help in locating Jed Harris, an American draft dodger who has been a leading voice in the anti-war movement. Of course, they aren’t who they claim to be.
It takes most of the book to figure out who they really are, as well as other characters Hooper introduces while the plot thickens, along with plot twists, a romantic interest, a side story (or is it?) involving Cole’s work with martial arts great Bruce Lee and, of course, as the bodies begin to pile up.
Hooper proves adept at some of the best traits of good mystery writers: Like Dashiell Hammett, Hooper’s prose is unsentimental and journalistic, with moral judgments left to the reader; his character, Adam Cole, is tough but honest and a little bit sentimental, like Raymond Chandler’s famous detective, Philip Marlowe; and like author Tony Hillerman, who also utilized a journalism background to craft gripping crime novels, Hooper is deft at painting scenes that give structure to his unfolding story.
There’s a little of Charles Dickens or J.K. Rowling in Hooper’s work, too, with character names like Whipper Billy Walker, an aging pro wrestler, and Detective Calderon, a mean and dirty cop.
When Hooper does delve more deeply into his cast, he churns out tight, clean prose that one would expect from a well-trained journalist. For instance, he says of Marti, a secretary Cole shares with Whipper Billy: ”She was over 50 and still a knockout. Sleek and slim, brilliant red hair, nifty eyeliner. She rarely went a day without being hit on by some Troy Donahue wanna-be, whom she dealt with as deftly as she handled her IBM keyboard.”
Clever names, taut prose, character development and scene setting aside, it’s plot that keeps readers turning the page, and Hooper delivers. If you’re looking for a good read for the holiday or a gift idea for a loved one, “Cole’s Last Chance” might be the ticket.
All four of Hooper’s novels are available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. His website, which lists and describes the novels as well as imparting his singular views on writing, is e-hooper.com.