Reviewed by P. David Searles (CD Philippines & PC/HQ 1971-76)
When the USPS dropped off R J Huddy’s Death to the Rescue I was well into reading Jon Meacham’s recent biography of Thomas Jefferson, a work that has been highly praised and is essential reading for anyone who wants to consider himself well read. I decided to take a short break from it and sample this new book. Within 20 pages I had concluded “Sorry, Jon, Jefferson is going to have to wait! It’s a bit like homework, whereas Death is fun.
Huddy’s story is centered around the murder of a prim and proper single woman – a bank loan officer and Sunday School teacher – by, all of the evidence strongly suggests, an outsider, in fact a newly arrived handsome African man. We experience the story through the eyes of about a dozen well-drawn characters, including the staff of a family-owned newspaper, the sheriff and his chief deputy, an ambitious DA and a pro bono defense lawyer, neighbors and relatives of the slain woman, a strange near-hermit living in the forest, and, of course, the accused himself. The characters are superbly described. There is enough about each to make us care for them, but not enough to remove the element of suspense that makes the book such a joy to read.
The main story takes place in a small city in eastern Kentucky, a place I know well, although I live in the western part of the state. The author includes place names, major highways, recognizable colleges and universities, descriptions of small town life, traditions carried over from earlier times, scores for local and state athletic events, the weather, and many other details that a Kentuckian would recognize as authentic. (One possible exception: Huddy’s characters do not smoke nearly as much as do my fellow Kentuckians.) Despite being firmly rooted in Kentucky this book is by no means ‘regional’ in its appeal. I should point out that R J Huddy is the pen name of Bob Cochrane, an RPCV who served in Morocco in 1981-83.
An important part of the story at the beginning and the end takes place in Africa. Huddy’s grasp of that terrain is equal to his understanding of Kentucky, and the reader leaves Africa with genuine reluctance when it is time to wrap things up.
The author does an excellent job of delving deeply into the details of the subplots that add such dramatic intensity to the main story. We learn about the struggles, usually futile in real life, of small daily newspapers like the one in my hometown; the demanding chores and constant changes in writing and producing a play; the challenges of sibling relationships; the hard work required to raise a ‘special needs’ child; the enduring puzzle and pleasure of sexual encounters, the warehousing of America’s aged; and the difficulty of predicting or understanding the behavior of those mysterious beings we call humans.
The twists and turns of the plot will captivate everyone, but this is not the place to reveal them. I will say that at the end there are bodies all over the place, in addition to the murdered banker/Sunday school teacher. Huddy satisfactorily disposes of them all.
Years ago I often took 10-12 hour plane rides accompanied only by a bag and a book. If I were doing it today Death to the Rescue would be the book.
P. David Searles served as the Country Director for the Peace Corps in the Philippines from 1971 to 1974, and spent the next two years at Peace Corps headquarters as Regional Director for NANEAP and as Deputy Director of the agency under John Dellenback. His career has included periods in international business, government service and education. Following the end of his business career in 1990 David earned a Ph. D. from the University of Kentucky (1993), and published two books: A College for Appalachia (1995) and The Peace Corps Experience (1997) both published by The University Press of Kentucky.