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Solid dialogue, characters make thriller shine

A Knife Edge
A Knife Edge
By David Rollins

Bantam: 2009

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This review first appeared in the March 22, 2009 issue of the North County Times.

Two elements are essential for a successful thriller, and David Rollins has both in spades in "A Knife Edge," coming out Tuesday.

You need a protagonist readers will care about, and you need dialogue that is true to life. You line both of those up, and even a weak story will feel fulfilling. When you add in the top-notch story at the heart of "A Knife Edge," you've got one of the best thrillers of the past few years.

The sequel to the best-selling "The Death Trust," Rollins' latest again features Air Force Maj. Vin Cooper, a special investigator now on loan to an inter-service Department of Defense bureau.

Rollins is the sort of literary figure that can define a career – the Air Force's answer to Jason Bourne or Bernard Samson. Actually, given Cooper's introspective nature, a more apt comparison might be Lt. Joe Leaphorn, the Navajo Tribal Police investigator that established Tony Hillerman's career as a mystery writer.

And it's a fair comparison, because "A Knife Edge" is a cross between a mystery and a spy thriller. Cooper is sent to investigate the seemingly accidental death-by-shark of a scientist working on a top-secret DoD research project, and while he has to deal with all sorts of threats to the nation's security (including a second 9/11, a slimy CIA supervisor and a possibly crooked British officer), basically he's trying to solve a murder.

Rollins shows a sure touch on dialogue; it's neither too stilted nor unnaturally flowery. Each character has their own meter and rhythm, their own personal vocabulary. There's not a single exchange that would leave a reader wincing with disbelief.

Add it up, and you have a wonderful escapist read, and one with an obvious lead-in to the next book in the Vin Cooper series.