'The Double Bluff' delivers
July 3, 2008 · Updated 7:49 PM
"There are countless ways a first-time novelist can screw up. Bad character development, poor plotting, disjointed storytelling - the land mines are endless. If too many go off, a reader puts the book down and doesn't pick it up again.That won't happen for readers of Double Bluff, the debut mystery novel from Whidbey Island resident Michael A. Hawley. The Double Bluff is a page turner that keeps readers engaged from beginning to end.You might know Hawley from his day job as Island County Sheriff. In Double Bluff, Hawley draws on his 15 years of experience in law enforcement to tell the story of an investigation into the stabbing death of a young college coed in the University District of Seattle.The lead investigator is Detective Sgt. Leah Harris, a strong-minded veteran of the Seattle Police Department. When a photograph of another cop, John Darby, is found on the victim's dresser during a sweep of the crime scene, Harris is startled. Darby is her lover.Harris soon learns that the motive for the killing is much more complicated than first glances suggests. The victim's uncle, a respected local banker, has links to the Colombian drug cartel. Further, he may be using dirty cops in a conspiracy to move large amounts of illegal drugs into the Pacific Northwest.Helping Harris unravel this mystery is the novel's other main character, Frank Milkovich. He is an investigator with the Seattle Police Department's Internal Affairs unit, and is called in because of the picture of Darby found at the initial crime scene. Milkovich is at loose ends in his career and his life. He once worked in drug enforcement, but he's been off the fast track for a long time. As the events of The Double Bluff unfold, Milkovich and Harris find themselves on the fastest track of their lives.Hawley's experience as a criminal investigator brings detail and authenticity to the crime scene passages of the novel, especially the book's opening sequence. He effectively portrays the culture that surrounds this aspect of law enforcement work - the procedures that are followed, and the rank-and-file cops and forensic specialists who descend on a site after a murder is committed. Investigators do knock-and-talks (door-to-door questioning), and detectives read the clues from moved coffee tables and speckles of talcum powder. The Double Bluff is worth reading for these authentic details alone. Hawley also does a good job of pacing in the novel, with plot twists coming at frequent intervals and the development of the Harris and Milkovich characters evolving over several chapters. The parallel storylines and scene-switching techniques Hawley employs heighten the suspense.That's not to say The Double Bluff is perfect. At times the dialogue can cause a reader to roll his eyes, as when a character suffering from a gunshot would gives a long speech about economic supply and demand. And not all the characters are fully believable.However, The Double Bluff more than passes the most important test, that of readability. Hawley should probably hang on to his day job as Island County Sheriff for the time being. But The Double Bluff is a promising start to what appears to be the beginning of a successful fiction writing career.The Double BluffBy Michael A. Hawley. A Writer's Showcase/Writer's Digest book; 290 pages, $14.95. "