AN EMPTY HELL By Dave White Reviewed
February 9, 2016
I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next Jackson Donne thriller, Donne finally throws his hands in the air and yells, “Haven’t I been through enough already?”
After the devastating events of NOT EVEN PAST, the New Jersey PI is hiding out in the woods of Vermont. He’s attempting to find peace and solace in the relative isolation. He earns enough for a room and a case of Heady Topper beer by doing cash only maintenance work at the Vermont Scenic Motel. His boss, Mario, is a decent enough guy, and Jackson Donne is starting to feel comfortable living under the bogus identity of Joe Tennant.
Back in New Jersey, someone is picking off members of Donne’s old unit from his days in the New Jersey police department. Convinced it is Jackson Donne out for vengeance against his crooked colleagues, and all but sure that he’s next on the hit list, Alex Robinson hires PI Matt Herrick to track down the murderer first. And it’s with Herrick that the reader spends most of the story. Herrick is a fantastic protagonist: A returning veteran, Herrick is dealing with trauma that won’t let him use a gun anymore. A hero armed only with a baton and his wits is a refreshing change from the typical private eye trope of the grizzled PI that will shoot first and ask questions later. Herrick is also the head coach of a high-school boys basketball team. Watching Herrick balance the case with the obligations of his job on the parquet floor just adds to the depth of character that author Dave White brings to this character.
As Herrick begins to sift through the wreckage of Donne’s past, all good things must come to an end for Donne’s present. Mario is killed by an assassin, and as Donne is dragged back into dealing with the ever mounting consequences of his past, Herrick finds the trail that leads him to Donne. Showing the contrast of Herrick, who is dealing with his emotional scars, side-by-side with the broken Donne is a stark reminder of the stakes that these characters are gambling with. There is a cost to this kind of life, and it’s clear that Donne has paid it.
The tension escalates further in the masterful flashbacks to Donne turning in his corrupt police unit. In a novel that gives its protagonist less screen time then you would expect, these scenes give us exactly what the reader needs to know about Jackson Donne. Donne is the living embodiment of the axiom “No good deed goes unpunished.” I can only imagine what emotional wringer Dave White will put him through in his next thriller.
AN EMPTY HELL plays to White’s strengths as an author. It is a tense, slow burn of thriller that achieves maximum payoff.