Brian Freeman’s Weathered Detective
Detective stories have been seemingly approached from every angle since their great explosion, in no small part thanks to Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie’s tireless efforts. Authors have tried to keep the genre as fresh and unique as possible with every new addition, and as a result we, the readers, have come to expect more and more from them. There are some who have taken the simplest approach to the matter and asked themselves: what’s more exciting than one investigation? Why two or even three, of course! Perhaps unfortunately, pulling off this sort of feat is much more difficult in execution than practice, with poor judgment calls often ruining novels with tremendous potential. The good news is that plenty of authors have pulled it off successfully, and I believe Brian Freeman’s Alter Ego should serve as the general standard for how to get it done.
In this novel which sees the return of Minnesotan detective Jonathan Stride, we are plunged into multiple investigations which, as you might expect, become increasingly related as the plot moves onwards. First off, a crashed car is found off a remote Duluth road, and inside is a dead man with false identification papers. The police also find a gun in the car, recently used. On the next day, a college student is reported missing, and while Stride feels the two cases are related, he still has no clue how. Looking into the girl’s disappearance, Stride is led on a trail which brings him to a movie production based on one of his own cases. More precisely, the trail leads to the Hollywood celebrity portraying Jonathan in the movie; a charmer at first sight, rumours circulate of the evil lurking in the darkest recesses of his soul.
Just as a little disclaimer, despite being part of a series this novel can certainly be read on its own without any foreknowledge of the characters or the events which shaped them in earlier books. Like every Jonathan Stride novel, you can make it your first without fear of missing out on anything.
Juggler of Stories
In most cases, I don’t feel all too confident when heading into a novel which has multiple storylines going on, even if they are bound to fuse together at one point or another. This is mainly because juggling between them and keeping them all equally interesting isn’t something everyone is capable of. In the case of Alter Ego however, it became clear as I went further and further into the book, what lay in front of me was a narrative powerhouse. Not only does Brian Freeman aptly juggle the multiple lines of investigation, he masterfully takes us from one point-of-view to the next, even switching from the past to the present on some occasions.
Somehow, the author manages to exclude confusion from his narrative equation and always makes it very clear where we are in the story, whose eyes we see it through and even why. There are very concrete payoffs to this structure which come in the form of truly unexpected revelations which play heavily on your expectations.
Additionally, most good mysteries only get better when viewed from different angles, and this one is no exception, especially considering one of those perspectives belongs to Cab Bolton, another character of Freeman’s whose timeline he decided to merge with Stride’s. It was a very bold move but I believe it paid off as it introduced another well-established prominent character some of us were already a fan of. At the very least, it made for some commendable fan service.
Tapestry of Intrigue
Once all is said and done, it doesn’t matter how many storylines you have or how well you mix them with one another; if the main thread of mystery isn’t intriguing enough, everything around it is bound to fall apart and rip at the seams. Despite being quite complex and far-spanning in its nature, I found the main mystery in this book to be not only engaging from beginning to end, but also airtight and extremely orderly in its presentation. There aren’t any extreme leaps of logic or nonsensical developments for the mere purpose of moving the plot along; the events unfold in as clear and concise a manner as you can imagine and never leave you feeling out of the loop. It’s also quite enjoyable to see the various threads slowly coming along together rather than being joined by one big or seemingly spontaneous event, as is too often the case. It really shows the whole web of intrigue was crafted with great care and Brian Freeman never lost sight of his final objective.
In addition to the mystery itself, the characters also present their fair share of intrigue as we’re never quite certain who we can trust and what their motivations might be. As a matter of fact, the multiple perspectives actually serve to raise more questions than they answer (at least until the ending comes along), adding layers of complexity to the characters and ensuring we never see them in mere terms of black or white.
The Final Verdict
To pull the curtains on the show, let me just say that in a sea of cookie-cutter detective literature, Alter Ego by Brian Freeman stands out tall and proud as a masterpiece of a novel, a real tour-de-force from every angle. The narration, characters, and different mystery threads all come together for an unforgettable story, the kind we like to call a page-turner. If you enjoy murder mysteries and/or haven’t yet made the acquaintance of Brian Freeman’s wondrous talents, I highly recommend you put this book at the top of your “to-read” list.