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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Diminutive Heroine Faces Spies, Assassin in New Redling Thriller

By S.G. Redling
238 pages
(Thomas & Mercer; January 1, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1477808612
ISBN-13: 978-1477808610

Danielle "Dani" Britton is an analyst for a very secretive corporate security firm located in Virginia. She is brilliant at her job, but she has one bad habit: she takes her work home with her. 

This puts her at risk when a mysterious group of attackers launch a raid in which all but three of Dani's co-workers are killed, the building where she works is razed and Dani is forced to figure out why or become the plot's next victim.

Before The Widow File, S.G. Redling's latest thriller, is over, Dani is shot in the leg, nearly drowns and is attacked by a professional assassin working for the bad guys. She is stalked in the nation's capital, two more of her co-workers are killed and a third is critically wounded. What's more, she finds herself tracking a deadly conspiracy that could embarrass the United States government.

The Widow File is a solid suspense novel with treacherous characters, deadly situations and the requisite dose of paranoia. As a heroine, Dani is unique: she is diminutive in stature, timid by nature and lacks any expertise in unarmed combat or the use of weapons. Instead of shooting it out with the novel's villains or besting them through the use of martial arts, she is forced to use her brain to defeat them. In addition, she has to overcome her natural -- and quite believable -- tendency to panic and freeze when confronted by danger in order to maintain the cool head and sound judgment she needs to avoid death at the hands of her tormentors.

Sheila Redling, the book's author, hosts a morning radio program at a station in West Virginia and is the author of a variety of fictional works, including Damocles, a sci-fi novel, and Flowertown, a paranoid suspense story.  

S.G. Redling, author of The Widow File (photo courtesy of her blog).

In The Widow File she takes the unusual step of writing from two points of view: that of Dani Britton and that of Tom, the professional assassin who has been assigned to stalk and kill her. 

The plot is complex -- unnecessarily so at times --  and Redling is inclined to inundate her readers with detail, some of which is not really necessary to move the story along.  What makes the book work, however, is the interaction between Dani and Tom -- a cat and mouse relationship in which the victim ends up tormenting her pursuer as much as she is tormented by him.

A certain type of paranoid thriller wouldn't be complete without a secret villain to unmask at the denouement. The Widow File has one, but the mastermind's identity is signaled early in the novel and most readers will be able to tell who is actually calling the shots for the bad guys long before the climax. This transparency is a major weakness of the story, as is the murky motive that sets the plot in motion in the first place: the villain reveals why all the murders and mayhem have occurred in a talky bit of exposition toward the end that some readers will find unsatisfying.

Nevertheless, for the most part The Widow File keeps the reader's attention nicely and I found myself swept along by it sufficiently that I ended up finishing the novel at three in the morning. Despite a book's faults, if it keeps you reading, that is recommendation enough. The Widow File definitely does that -- and more. 

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