Red Means Run

By Brad Smith

No disrespect is intended in saying that this book, announced as the first featuring rugged handyman and amateur sleuth Virgil Cain, reads like it is already the tenth in the series. Author Brad Smith, himself a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, knows this territory well, and Virgil is just the latest embodiment of a familiar figure in his fiction: the masculine, seemingly omnicompetent problem-solver fighting for justice and standing up for the weak and the innocent.

In this debut adventure Virgil himself is the innocent man on the run from the law after being implicated in a couple of murders that rock a semi-gentrified upper New York State rural community. Escaping from prison with MacGyver-like ingenuity, Virgil finds himself on the run. Luckily he has a guardian angel in the form of a sexy police detective named Claire Marchand. Virgil is just the kind of real man Claire needs after the break-up of her marriage to a wimpy loser. Meanwhile Claire, Virgil can’t help noticing, has great legs. He immediately suspects “that somewhere beneath the cool exterior might be some warm coals.” She’s also the kind of gal who can’t read a book like Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse without falling asleep. He hasn’t figured out this whole Internet thing, and she has to be shown how to appreciate classic rock, but obviously the two are meant for each other, and together they set out to find the real killer.

It is not a complicated moral universe. Characters are either kind, good-hearted types (Virgil, Claire, an elderly veterinarian); sleazy, rich scumballs (the murder victims); or role-playing morons (rural degenerates and redneck cops). Meanwhile, the “mystery” is the sort that the reader has to simply wait for the plot to resolve on its own, which it does in a satisfactory fashion (though not without leaving a number of extraneous loose ends).

Yes, it all follows a predictable formula, one that is as comfortable as the blue jeans, t-shirt, baseball cap and work boots of its hero, but this is what one expects from genre franchise fiction. Smith handles it all very well, and we can confidently predict the further adventures of Virgil Cain providing us with more of the same.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, January 2012.

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