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The Hearse You Came In On    by Tim Cockey order for
Hearse You Came In On
by Tim Cockey
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

The Hearse You Came In On is a first novel, a fact belied by the deftness with which its author develops character and plot. Hitchcock Sewell is a fairly ordinary citizen: he likes his family, his friends, his colleagues, his life in general. However, many particulars of said life are not run-of-the-mill. 'Hitch' is drop-dead gorgeous, has a warm relationship with his unorthodox ex-wife Julia, and enjoys his job as a funeral director. It is this aspect of his life that drags him into a convoluted mystery, when a woman calling herself Carolyn James enquires about arranging her own funeral.

The name is false. 'Carolyn' is actually police detective Kate Zabriskie, a woman haunted by too many personal demons, including the untimely death of her husband, also a police officer. Her current case involves the real Carolyn James, whose death Kate failed to prevent, yet another burden she takes upon her soul. The blackmailing scheme in which Carolyn was involved leads to murder; and Kate's investigations become personal as a tortuous trail of corruption and deceit leads back to the death of her husband - not an accident as presumed but the ruthless execution of an honest cop who came too close to the truth.

Cockey writes with sophistication. His protagonist's wry observations often lampoon the ridiculous in our society, and serve to lighten the intensity and complexity of the plot. Kate's situation is appalling; and Hitch's responses to her plight show us a likeable and admirable character. The author vividly demonstrates how a fairly ordinary person finds himself in a dangerous spot - Hitch should run for his life; he chooses instead to stand by Kate. The relationship between the two is well developed.

Other characters are sketched with equal skill, the author eliciting strong emotional reactions to them. I found Sewell's old college buddy contemptible, the members of his amateur theatrical group hysterical, and I still don't know if I like Julia or not, but she is certainly interesting. As mentioned, Hitch enjoys his job; and the steady stream of clients to the funeral home provides a fascinating glimpse into human nature as well as a better understanding of the main character.

Cockey's pacing and plot development are just as interesting. There are moments when it seems that the story is proceeding with breathtaking speed, but the author's trick of backtracking serves to feed the reader information in manageable doses. Just when it seems that you have the whole picture, he gives you something more ... up to the very last minute. My only quibble, a minor point for many people, is the frequent use of obscenities, which did not seem to add to the meaning.

The Hearse You Came In On is an excellent, solid read that blends suspense, action, and humour. I look forward to the second in the series, Hearse of a Different Color.

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