Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: REED'S PROMISE by John Clarkson

I've written about REED'S PROMISE before and I'll probably write about it again. It's a book that makes other thrillers seem tame by comparison, a fabulous feat of writing by a novelist who I'm still not all that familiar with. (Primarily because he doesn't have a lot of books on the shelves at the library.) He has a spotty publishing history and doesn't turn out books on a regular schedule far as I can tell. There hasn't been a new book from him in several years.

Friday's Forgotten Books is the weekly meme hosted by the oh-so-talented Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE. There are tons of forgotten (or overlooked) books mentioned today so don't forget to go take a looksee. It's John MacDonald day over there as well. Though I never read any MacDonald - of the John variety that is, I've read plenty of Ross MacDonald.

If you have any affinity for thriller writing at all, make note of John Clarkson's REED'S PROMISE and promise yourself you'll read it. This book continues to be one of the best of its kind, though I suspect there aren't really many of 'its kind' around. It surpassed my expectations going in as it was one of those serendipitous reading events.

The book begins at breakneck (almost literally)speed - we're suddenly thrown into the middle of a motorcycle accident in which the rider, Bill Reed will lose a leg and become an embittered amputee lying in a hospital bed feeling sorry for himself. He is a private eye and ex-FBI agent with a talent for forensic accounting - tracking illegal money back to its original source.

In the middle of bemoaning fate, Reed receives a note from his cousin Johnny Boy Reed. Johnny Boy has been institutionalized at the Ullmann Institute since he was a kid. He is severely retarded but able to function enough to put together a note to his private eye cousin asking for help.The note is cryptic enough (a series of numbers and bits of paper glued together), but Bill deduces from it that something is wrong and maybe he should go take a look. If for no other reason then that Johnny Boy is family. Guilt is a great motivator.

With a prosthetic leg in place, and a cane, Bill heads up to the Ullman Istitute.

REED'S PROMISE resonates with a crushing sense of dread from the beginning of Reed's quest to ferret out the truth and perhaps redeem himself in his own eyes.

First of all, Reed is a man minus a leg - can he stand up to physical attack? Can he fight if he has to? Just how strong is he? Can he be undermined by his handicap? All these thoughts ran through my mind as I continued to read.

Also, I didn't want his cousin Johnny Boy - whom we come to know and like - physically harmed in any way. So from the very beginning I was worried and that worry only grew.

When Reed arrives at the upstate New York, Ullman Institute, and realizes almost right away that something bad is going on, you do wonder how he'll be able to 'fix' things?

Matthew Ullmann and his wife Madeleine run the institute like some sort of fiefdom (and have made themselves rich in the process) and they are, no question about it, a fiendish duo. We know they are the enemy Reed will have to vanquish if he wants to save Johnny Boy - yet it doesn't weaken the suspense angle one bit.

While reading REED'S PROMISE I remember having to stop and take breathing breaks, tension breaks, while I acclimated my emotions and took deep breaths to calm myself. That's how overwhelmed I was by the increasing fear of what would happen to the two main characters. Up until that moment (a few years ago) I'd never read a book in which the 'hero' was an amputee taking on evil all by himself - using his wits, his smarts and yes, his physical abilities to thwart some especially nasty characters.

I don't know how else to say this except that it's own unique way, this is a brilliant book. Clarkson, who is also a screenwriter, has a knack for visual scene creation which adds immeasurably to the suspense. If your library doesn't have REED'S PROMISE, booksellers online do. Get a copy, read it and see if I'm exaggerating.

Unfortunately, the book has two major strikes against it: One: no one ever heard of it. (The publishers were obviously asleep at the switch.) Two: It has a horrible cover. I say: IGNORE the cover! Read the book.


  1. That's a pretty amateur e-book-level cover, all right. If you like Ross Macdonald, there's a better than even chance you'll like John D. MacDonald...or so I say. Gregory McDonald is on the other side of JDM, I'd say. I'll let you place Philip et al....

  2. It wasn't an e-book, Todd, but it sure as heck looks like one. Ugh.

    I don't know about John MacDonald - I think I began one of the books a while ago and couldn't continue. It was the attitude, I think, that threw me off.

  3. Try THE EXECUTIONERS sometime, I'd suggest. Some note it has some cute dialogue between the husband and wife protagonists, but it remains my favorite of his novels (and avoids the Rotarian hippie flavor, to borrow Ed Gorman's phrase, of the Travis McGee novels).

  4. Maybe I will, Todd. Thanks for the tip.


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