DRY BONES. By Peter Quinn. Overlook Duckworth. 352 pages. $25.95.
Remember that roller coaster ride when you were a kid? The one where the first drop was so steep you thought the rest of it would be a scream? Then the coaster just bumped, jolted and rattled to the end? Well, maybe the best advice here is to read the first 133 pages of this book last.
As "Dry Bones" opens, a corrupt jeep-driving soldier meets an abrupt, untimely end taking the hero through Nuremburg, Germany.
Author Peter Quinn immediately has himself a thrill ride going.
An OSS mission into the Balkans to aid Czech resistance at the close of World War II goes wrong, naturally, and the derring-doers flee to hole up with fleeing survivors of the Holocaust.
Then turn the page and the action abruptly ceases; you are reading a declassified document 50 years later. Then you're in London after the war, then New York, as the characters move on with their lives, the unresolved loose ends of the horror swaying like chains around them.
An entirely different sort of story emerges here, paced with a lot less tension. As Fintan Dunne, Quinn's hero spy, sorts his way through a corporate post-war existence, the not-so-good guys from the mission are making out like bandits.
A weird, almost gratuitous "is he gay?" subplot evolves concerning a supporting character. The "live wire" threading through all this is an escaped Nazi war criminal, but for a lot of the book, Dunne never gets close enough to touch that wire. He just keeps hearing about people who did:
"Pully wouldn't be put off. He stayed on the attack, challenging Bartlett that 'this wasn't about hunting war criminals but harboring them' ... I knew Pully had made a dangerous error confronting Bartlett ... 'If we allow this to go on,' Pully insisted to me, 'even if we win we'll end up secondhand replicas of the very people we set out to defeat.' "
The secondhand Nazi hunt ride bumps and jolts past poetry-verse dropping, mysterious women, sudden deaths, baggage claim tickets and suicide pills. Finally, Dunne climbs aboard and the cars crash together in the final tunnel drop: a shoot-out climax in Cuba, weirdly enough, during the revolution. Even weirder, Dunne has been slipped a hallucinogen and experiences it all as a sepulchral cosmic trip. By that point you might be starting to suspect somebody slipped you one, too.
If you haven't read the first 133 pages, though, the whole thing keeps a pretty engaging, "what's next?" suspense to it. It's just that those first 133 pages are a scream.
Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.