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Book review: Lead Tin Yellow is a taut crime thriller worth your time

This crime thriller about a journalist and his Vietnam vet father caught in a maze of war crimes, greed and murder is a satisfying read.

books Updated: Apr 11, 2015 13:23 IST
Anil Grover
Anil Grover
Hindustan Times
Lead Tin Yellow,Lead Tin Yellow review,Book Review

If you find the title awkward, you are forgiven. However, it is an important clue to a thriller about how ordinary people unwittingly get sucked into whirlpools of wretchedness. The subtitle is perhaps more like it: A dead man's secret life; A son's hunt for his killers.

Regretfully, there cannot be any such alibi for the tacky cover, which makes this look like a 'quick read' you would pick up from AH Wheeler's railway stall before jumping onto your train (or is it budget flight nowadays?). But hold fast to that old cliché which wisely advises you to never judge a book by its cover for Doug Gunnery (a pseudonym) turns out a lucid, racy read.

Robin Miller is a laid-back small-town journalist in Massachusetts, whose father Jason Miller, a Vietnam veteran, is shot to death seconds after he tosses a box full of old newspapers off a bridge, prompting Robin to hunt for the killers. While on the chase, he discovers his father's double life, becomes closer to his half-brother Jeff, who describes Robin as incapable of thinking, and of course comes upon the process of mixing lead and tin by 16th century artists to create the colour yellow (the explanation to the book's stiff title).

Despite Jeff's uncomplimentary observation, however, Robin and his fashion savvy girlfriend Linda manage to stay ahead of his adversaries, the killers and the police. The story starts with Robin's reticent father coming to visit him from their childhood home in Jericho Heights. After exchanging a few desultory remarks about some wartime 'documents' (and no mention whatsoever about Robin's mother) that his father has brought for his perusal, Robin decides his duty for the time being is done and that it's safe to leave him alone to go to work. When he returns in the evening to an empty house, he thinks his father must have gone out for a walk. Robin waits for his father - patiently at first, and then with increasing nervousness. When the police car arrives to inform him that his father has been shot dead, Robin is numb. Why would someone kill his quiet, reserved father in such a gruesome manner? And why did his father take his suitcase with him, throwing it over a bridge seconds before he was shot? As Robin begins to make sense of the "desultory" remarks he had shared with his father, the plot slowly reveals an amazing maze of war crimes, greed, industrial bankruptcy and murder.

Lead Tin Yellow by Doug Gunnery, Partridge (Rs 450, PP 244).

The best crime fiction often explores close relationships. And so it is with Lead Tin Yellow which features a particularly arresting father-son relationship with its undercurrents of both love and hate. Son Robin says he was always a tea lover while his father Jason was a coffee person. He hasn't forgotten his father's unusual passion for bagels either. The passage where his father explains to Robin that he would like to leave some Vietnam records with him as they could be valuable to a historian or a library delicately brings out the nature of their fraught relationship: "So?" I asked expectantly. "So, nothing." A trace of testiness. This curdled the father-son bonhomie that we were both working at.

Aside from the taut crime writing, Doug Gunnery's descriptions of a father seen through a son's eyes are real. Robin loves his father but, like sons all over the world, is uncomfortable in a situation that demands a one-on-one conversation. It's clear, though, that he loves him as he sets out to protect Jason's memory. The different threads in the book come together towards the closure of the case and the end of the book: "Mom may still want Dad to say that he was sorry. But the father I got to know after he died was a man who Mom never knew. Funny how the same person can leave behind different memories for different people."

(Anil Grover is an independent journalist.)

First Published: Apr 11, 2015 10:38 IST