‘Caretakers’ is a fast-paced follow up for Sheffield

Jamie Sheffield’s new installment in the Tyler Cunningham series is another fast-paced thriller with the intimate knowledge of the Adirondacks that will give local readers some satisfying context.

“Caretakers” follows “Here Be Monsters,” in which Sheffield outlined Tyler’s quirky crime-fighting methods. Here’s an overview: an Asperger’s prone, city-bred transplant with a mania for super-chilled Coke, Chinese food and prime numbers, fights bad guys using his uncommon brain.

He is one of a kind, and this case seems to have been tailored to Tyler’s abstruse skillset. There are massifs of documents to sift through, angry locals to be fumigated with wasp spray, and literary ciphers to be cracked.

Tyler is called in to look for Deirdre Crocker, a young woman who disappeared from a Great Camp in the late 1950’s. It’s a long-dormant, but unforgotten case -?like Douglas Legg, but involving a pretty young woman instead of an 8-year-old boy. The results are both more lurid and conclusive than any of the many, real Adirondack disappearances.

If you live in the Tri-Lakes -?as Tyler proudly does -?you’ll appreciate the constant references to specific backroads, parking areas and lakes. “Caretakers” is a thoroughly Adirondack book, and the repeated thrill of sharing a ride through familiar territory kept me interested.

The pace is almost as quick as Tyler’s borrowed Porsche 993, which he drives at improbable speeds on improbably bad roads all over the park. But, freewheeling as the writing is, it took several chapters to get back into the swing of Sheffield’s prose. There’s hardly a page in this book, or in “Here Be Monsters,” that doesn’t have a few insertions (in both italics and parentheses) that supposedly reveal Tyler’s inner thoughts.

Sheffield adds another, even stranger layer to Tyler’s psyche in “Caretakers” -?the ghost of a man Tyler killed in his previous case, with whom he converses. Out loud. In public. Tyler is emotionally scarred (his parents were killed in 9/11), but ready to use the odd apparitions of PTSD to his own ends.

An astonishly long sentence on the back cover says that Tyler’s “saving grace is an insatiable hunger for knowledge that combines with an ability to make connections from a series of seemingly unrelated data-points that other people miss; this continually pulls him into other people’s problems, where his focus and unique perceptual abilities allow him to solve puzzles that others cannot see in ways that nobody else could conceive.”

This method requires him to fill his brain with buckets of random information, then let his subconscious sort it out while he eats doughnuts. And, while the plot is fast-paced, it mirrors Tyler’s methods. Sheffield front-loads information and exposition, then a sudden flash of insight relegates the final third of the book to an exciting, though somewhat predictable, denouement.

Sheffield seems to take pains to de-humanize Tyler more than humanize him, and so we’re left screaming around the North Country in the 993 with a savant who crunches mathematical sequences in his head and only pretends to have human emotions. It’s certainly an original concept.

Tyler shows a slight prejudice against the “Carhartt brigade” who appear invariably as “stompers.” As a socially clueless flatlander, Tyler draws some strange lines between “local” and “summer” people. In the end, neither side is blameless, but if we met on the street, Tyler would be more likely to douse me in Raid than share his sesame chicken.

Like “Here Be Monsters,” this novel skillfully integrates a flashy, door-busting crime novel into the physical fabric of the Adirondack Park.

This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.