The Devil in the Clock

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The Devil In The ClockWritten by Harry Shannon — Mick Callahan has an attitude problem, a drinking problem, and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When younger, the tendency to use his fists as debating tools saw him thrown off the Navy SEAL training course. It brought about a very sudden and violent end to his career as a TV therapist and lifestyle guru when he felled one of his guests with a neat left hook. But now Callahan has managed to rehabilitate his career and avert his alcoholism, and his work as a psychotherapist has resumed, albeit not beamed out to a television audience.

He has a loving, passionate, but slightly confused relationship with a female police officer, but their plans for the future are shattered when she takes a sniper’s bullet to the head while they are in a Los Angeles restaurant. The sheer meaningless and random nature of her death sends Callahan into a spiral of despair and anger which heads in only one direction – to the bottom of the next bottle of Bourbon.

Eventually, he lurches out of the booze-fueled miasma of rage and self-pity, and presents himself to a nearby Alcoholics Anonymous group, where he meets an elderly man called Gabe. With some homespun but effective wisdom, Gabe points Callahan in the direction of possible redemption – and revenge. Callahan returns to his home, which is still redolent with the presence of his dead lover, and begins his search for her killer.

At this point, a pretty impressive and formidable support network kicks in for the now-sober Callahan. Here it would benefit you to have read Harry Shannon’s earlier Callahan books. The people going out to bat for him include some serious talent working for national security, and also what’s becoming an all-too-common character in today’s crime fiction – a high-tech hacker.

Callahan decides that his girlfriend’s death must have been a tragic mistake. With his powerful friends he makes a start on identifying the killer’s real target. The sniper eventually makes good on their earlier error, and Callahan receives a tantalising but incomplete clue from the lips of a dying man.

The book’s title comes from the tragic poet and writer, Sylvia Plath. She wrote: “But the true is the ugly mixed up everywhere, like a peck of dirt scattered through your life. The true is that there is no security, no artifice to stop the unsavory changes, the rat race, the death unwish – the winged chariot, the horns and the motors, the Devil in the clock.”

Plath’s dark view of life permeates Shannon’s book. Callahan is a destructive force, both to himself and to those whose lives he touches. His efforts to provide therapy for others seem sincere, but they are probably more comforting to him than his clients. The writing is tight and intense, with nary a word wasted. However, there is too big a narrative leap between Callahan and his team getting their first hint as to the hitman’s identity, and the dramatic and violent conclusion. A typical schematic for a noir thriller might be: crime – discovery – investigation – pursuit – denouement – epilogue. Here, the pursuit part is almost entirely missing. This being said, The Devil in the Clock is a gripping and thought-provoking read.

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Harry Shannon

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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