Perhaps the biggest mistake writers of crime thrillers make is putting too much emphasis on the crime and action, and not enough on the characters and place settings. Thankfully, R.P. McCabe's deep seeded new work, “The Thick Fog in Pacheco Pass” does not fall at all into that trap. Mr. McCabe's writing style is as clean as the water running in any natural spring. That clearness and tight structure add much to the people and places he brings forth in this book. The way that he renders both setting and character are a wonder: you know exactly who the people McCabe conjures from his imagination are; you know the places they are in and the lives they live. Because of that you can feel the whole of the story as it unfolds in ways only the best writing allows.
The main protagonist of “The Thick Fog in Pacheco Pass,” Charley Caldwell, has returned from the war in Vietnam. He has come back psychologically damaged, wanting to find out some answers about the things that went wrong in his life, most notably with Miranda DeCosta and the relationship they had earlier on. Charlie learns Miranda has been raped and murdered, and he comes to wonder whether the man that has been locked up for the crime is guilty of it or not. The story of all of that unfolds in ways that keep the reader guessing; there are many plot twists and none of them are common to the genre, or obvious. Charlie needs redemption. He is, in a sense, a tortured soul, struggling with truths, the effects of war, layers of justice and the lack thereof. He is a searcher, inquisitive, smart, and sometimes desperate.
The author has set this novel in the 1970's. He makes great use of atmosphere, bringing alive a time vivid in its contradictions. The small town Charlie returns to is wonderfully depicted. Even minor characters are brought to life vividly. I am glad Charlie finds Audrey, not only for his sake, but for the sake of the reader; her entering his life allows for a kind of growth necessary but often lacking in the human animal; witnessing it was a pleasure. Perhaps most important to the success of this excellent piece of literature is the psychological undertones that exist within its pages. R.P. McCabe is getting at more than murder mystery; he is laying bare real people, their foibles and struggles, their desires and failures. It is a piece true to life, realism as high art.
“Thick Fog in Pacheco Pass” is a thrill ride of questions and answers. It is tautly written, superbly drawn. There is love here and sex that keeps things concrete. Reading it splays your eyes wide, sets you to questioning, wondering. It is a hard road cut wide open. Miranda DeCosta's death, I think, is a catalyst for exploring the bigger questions about being alive, about how we live. The deep currents of Charley Caldwell keep us engaged, as if all of what goes on with him is true to life. That just might be the highest compliment one can pay a work of fiction. I feel I know more about myself after reading it.
Thick Fog in Pacheco Pass
Pen & Ink Publishing, Ltd. (2013)
Reviewed by F.T. Donereau for Rebecca’s Reads (2/14)