Let’s take a look at the new thriller Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt.
Note: One potential spoiler (sentence labelled as such).
Fade to Black* by David Rosenfelt
This novel is a sequel to the 2016 novel, Blackout.
The blurb: After getting shot in the line of duty, New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock has been busy rebuilding his life. His fiancé suggests he attend an amnesia support group where he meets Sean Conner. Conner approaches Doug with a scrapbook that he says he found in his attic, which consists of news clippings about a woman who had been killed three years before. Conner, who also has amnesia, has no idea who the girl is or why he might have made the scrapbook. Doug agrees to help and convinces his captain to open the cold case. When he discovers that he has a personal connection to the investigation, suddenly he’s questioning everything he thought he knew about Sean and wondering if he put an innocent man in prison.
Author David Rosenfelt started his career in the movie industry and eventually moved into writing for TV and movies. The best parts of this novel reflect his screenwriting expertise. For example, the scenes are short and tightly written. There is a minimum of setting or even action. Much of the novel consists of fast-paced dialogue.
The dialogue is excellent. It is complex and nuanced, with plenty of underlying conflict and subtext. When the protagonist Doug Brock talks to his partner or girlfriend, he uses shorthand and banter, whereas when he’s interviewing someone, he’s much more formal. The author uses the barest of dialogue tags, but it is always easy to know who is speaking.
Here is Doug bantering with his girlfriend:
“Can I tell you something privately? Off the record?”
“Doug, we’re engaged…in a manner of speaking. We’re going to be married… at some point.”
“You’re really going out on a limb there,” I say.
She nods. “I’m a risk taker…”
Notice all the contractions?
Now Doug is talking with an informant:
“We’ve been through this twice, Mitchell.”
“I don’t care. I’ll deny everything, and I’ll never testify. You need to make the promise again.”
“I won’t reveal your name. Now who are the people that could have killed Rita Carlisle?”
The scenes with Doug narrating are written in the first person and present tense, whereas those with bad guys or victims narrating are from the third person and past tense. It might take a reader a few minutes to get used to the switches, but once the pattern is established it helps the reader orient quickly to each new scene.
Rosenfelt also knows how to plot. He draws the reader off in one direction and then makes an 180 degree turn without missing a beat.
Thriller or Not?
Which leads to the question, is this really a thriller?
Traditionally, in a thriller the reader knows who the bad guy is and what he or she is doing. The tension comes from waiting to see if the protagonist can stop the bad guy.
(Possible spoiler alert) Although this novel does show us bad guys towards the beginning, we’re not really sure what they are up to and soon we find out that the bad guys might not know what is going on either.
Rather than a traditional hardcore thriller, the novel wanders between thriller and mystery. That doesn’t detract from the fact that it is paced well and does have an interesting plot.
The bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a fast and easy read, but still had some substance to it. I would be willing to read other novels by this author.