Volume 24, Number 04, Summer, 2006

Death is Easy

By Russell Madden

Guardian Press, 2005, $14.95
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
July 2006

Russell Madden’s detective novel, Death is Easy, hints coyly at a stateless society in a near future version of the United States, but spends precious few words describing the operation of law enforcement in a free society. That’s a shame, as there are missed opportunities that come tantalizingly close to shedding light on the criminal side of a free society. The radical differences one might expect to find compared to a society where one group monopolizes the legal use of force, instead seem marginal. Once you uncover that Madden’s society (apparently the same geographical entity as the United States, which still maintains borders with Mexico and Canada) exists with fewer laws but many of the same institutions, the temptation to search for the greater implications of such a vision almost obscures the rest of the novel’s plot.

Dyrk Rinehart (with a “Y”), a private investigator who occasionally free-lances for the local police, takes on a simple missing person case. Along with his young and gorgeous assistant, Rinehart seeks out the last location of a probable suicide by a cancer patient. Instead, they uncover a layer of plots and subplots, from basic insurance fraud to major drug running and double-crossing between rival gangs. As they pull each of the loose threads, they even uncover links to the death of Rinehart’s wife and kids in a car accident one year ago.

Madden writes an interesting detective story, although the escalation of plots and huge cast of rarely seen background characters made it difficult to keep their motivations and fates straight. Far too much time is spent on describing the events leading up to the death of Rinehart’s family, time that might have better been spent in the present, fleshing out all the characters making up the subplots.

As a person, and detective, Rinehart lacks sympathy. Given the tragic death of his two young kids and wife, the reader feels almost obligated to root for Rinehart. His self-deprecatory sense of humor may attempt to blunt his cantankerous world view, but instead grated, rather than coming across as banter. Perhaps this came through so strongly because so many of the other characters never loosened up either; virtually every other person with whom Rinehart interacts seems to hate the world, and each person thus failed to act as foils for his wacky sense of humor.

Death is Easy rarely tries to convince any character (save maybe the criminal kind) that a free society was worth the fight. There’s no cause supplied for the radical change from a previous statist society to one with private security and private police, leaving the libertarian reader (and non-libertarian, for that matter) in the dark regarding what could have proved a major component of the novel. For example, by what authority can the private police force make arrests or imprison individuals? A privatized fire department is one thing, and there’s a nice touch where Rinehart risks a false alarm and must pay restitution. Whether this is an anarchist or minarchist society (the state exists to provide security), we never learn. Instead, the novel remains a decent detective tale with a tough-luck protagonist. If Madden develops future Rinehart novels, filling in the political background and imparting a lighter sense of life among the characters would create a stronger book.

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