The Dead Man
Joel Goldman
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Buy *The Dead Man* by Joel Goldman online

The Dead Man
Joel Goldman
384 pages
April 2009
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Jack Davis has had his share of life’s ups and downs, mostly downs. With two deceased children, a divorce, and a strange affliction that pulls his body into twisting spasms, no one would blame him if he shut the world out of his life. Yet when trouble rears its eerie head from every angle imaginable, he doesn’t turn his back. Now his dead daughter seems to be reaching to him through a clue left at the scene of a suspicious death, and his landlord’s mysterious niece confesses to a less-than-honorable past while nosing into his business. But these things have to wait his attention, as he’s agreed to look into two deaths associated with the Harper Institute of the Mind (HIM), a state-of-the-art facility where dream analysis isn’t the only thing going on. It’s staffed by various researchers – suspects? – many of whom lie to Jack right from the start. Are they protecting their jobs or their subjects, or is it something else? Are the suicide and accidental death truly what they seem? Jack’s work is stacked up against him.

With the FBI dogging him, suspecting him of hiding millions in missing drug money whose disappearance his daughter may have had something to do with, he dives headfirst into his newest investigations. As new head of security at HIM, he quickly makes enemies. It seems people have been dying in ways predicted in their dreams, and Jack gets the uncomfortable feeling that whoever is doing them in must be an insider. To top it all off, the latest death scene (number three) – “The Dead Man,” as the scenes of the crimes had been termed by his old squad– contains a blatant clue linking Jack to the deceased. Not only does he have to find out who’s behind all these deaths – if he can even prove there is a psychopath loose – he’s got to convince the powers that be he’s not involved in any of the nefarious goings-on. Then he’s got to worry that he may be next on the hit list. And, of course, there are all those spasms...

This is the first Joel Goldman novel I have read, and I will read more. His storytelling is superb; he sets scenes and delivers characters to the reader in a colorful, three-dimensional production. Though his cast of characters is a long one (I found it helpful to keep track of who’s who on a 3x5 card), it presents a real-world environment where technology and human foibles entangle with expected and unexpected results. The Harper Institute of the Mind is a credible entity experimenting with the innermost workings of the subconscious human mind, the world of dreams. Goldman fleshes out this institution as well as the rest of the components of this novel and makes it a believable part of the scientific community, as it exists here.

Goldman’s development of this story involves the reader from the very start, as we are brought into the novel at the scene of a heartbreaking, upsetting crime. As we meet Jack Davis and enter his world, we experience his weaknesses and shortcomings, and the heartache of his own past, yet we never get the feeling that this man is anything but a strong character. His inner strength is evident in every scene. That he has come through such a tragic past – the untimely deaths of his two children – is a testament of his survival instinct.

The Dead Man has all the plot twists one may expect from a Grisham novel, and the pace of a James Patterson crime story. It is an engrossing, well-developed novel that also uses humor and excellent dialog to convey as well as contrast with its gritty tone. The only negative comment I have is that there are numerous editing errors – places where a grammatical mistake was overlooked, or awkward sentences sent me rereading a paragraph two or more times. These, though, are minor annoyances and did not detract from my overall enjoyment of The Dead Man. I heartily recommend this novel.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Carolyn LeComte, 2009

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