Death Spiral by James W. Nichol

Reviewed by Rebecca Colbeck

Murder mysteries are not generally my preferred choice of reading material, nor are period pieces, but there is something about James W. Nichol’s writing style that I find absolutely enthralling. Death Spiral is the third novel by James W. Nichol that I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. His character driven dialogues and fascinating plot twists draw you in from the first page, and you soon find yourself unable to put the book down.

This book, set during WWII, opens with the protagonist, Canadian pilot Wilf McLaughlin, under heavy fire; his plane in a death spiral as it speeds to meet the earth. His injuries are very serious but, days later, he is still alive. After several months in hospital, he returns home to a hero's welcome, but his head is full of questions. He has been blind for three months and there are three days missing from his memory. With a severed limb and damaged arm he, broken in body and spirit, he temporarily perches himself at his father’s law office until he can resume his legal studies. He reconnects with his old friend Andy, who is on the local police force, and gradually ingratiates himself with Carol, his father's secretary. Life begins again, but he suddenly finds himself in another type of death spiral. Almost immediately after his homecoming, a series of bizarre deaths occur and, because it is a small town, raised eyebrows and whispers begin when Wilf seems to be involved in one way or another. Wilf finds himself trying to solve the murders and wonders, himself, if he is somehow causing them. He convinces Andy to help him investigate "unofficially" which leads to Andy’s ultimate demotion; devastating for a family man. While trying to solve the mysteries of his blindness, his memory loss, and the unsolved murders, he falls in love, not realizing that his loved one is already in danger. His father begins studying files on the gas chambers and human experiments, bringing back fragments of memory that push Wilf even harder to get answers; answers, he is sure, he will regret coming to know. Wilf follows his own trail back to when he was shot down over Germany and makes the shattering connection.

This novel explores the many psychological and philosophical dark places in a post WWII world. Nichols has written an absorbing thriller, and a meditation on the nature of war for aggressors, heroes and by-standers alike.