Dead No More (Rhubarb Papers Book 1)

“Language, Lilac!”

Review by Joey Madia

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” —Thomas Jefferson

With this opening epitaph, Pete Adams had me hooked. As the US Federal Reserve (neither Federal nor a Reserve) buys up all it can at a bargain under the banners of Qualitative and Quantitative Easing amid whispers of a trillion-dollar platinum coin Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen could use to avoid a government shutdown, even some old-money families like the Rockefellers in West Virginia are chiming in to say “The Fix Is Fully In.”

Dead No More opens with a car fire that kills two police officers—a mother (Dawn) and daughter (Carol)—and facially scars their granddaughter/daughter, Juliet. Carol’s husband, who is “something in the City,” which is code for a man of importance, is also killed.

It’s clear that the two officers were murdered because they were working on a case involving high-level families and government players who control the financial institutions and key development sectors in London. The police databases involving the conspiracy as well as the conspiracy itself employ a host of food-related code words, like Rhubarb, Vanilla, and Crumble, based on plot-related French and German words decoded as the narrative unfolds. The police database—a case archive—is further coded with words like Mammon (signifying greed). It is a smoking gun worth infecting with viruses, hacking into, and even killing its contributors and administrators to keep secret.

The central characters are Nakka, Juliet’s grandfather, an inept mounted police officer and eccentric reminiscent of the Lionel Jeffries character in the film adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang who lives in a house that, along with his horse, he could have bought from Pippi Longstocking. The central female character is Debbie Smith, a talented detective dubbed “Lilac” because of the color of her clothes.

Nakka’s sister-in-law Lisa, a real hoot, is another important character.

Nakka’s wife Dawn was a Scotland Yard Detective Inspector and a real looker. Out of his class in every way. Their daughter Carol, one of three, rose even higher in the ranks. As a result, Nakka is always trying to prove himself worthy and rarely succeeding.

We also meet a cast of kooky, horny police people, with names like Grace, Swallow, Barmy, Bong, and Brandon. Their scenes are somewhere between Monty Python and Animal House, with plenty of lively, off-color language. The working-class vernacular and rough talk/manners of most the characters ups the fun, like Bond and Co. on magic mushrooms. Indeed, Dead No More is resplendent with voices in the head and clever wordplay.

With plenty of legitimate stakes (the body count steadily increases) Dead No More, through its quirky characters and lively language, operates similar to an adult film where everyone is attracted to and sleeping with everyone, irrespective of gender, and the central female character makes her rounds with just about everyone. It is in these moments, coupled with the high-level corruption and secret societies “more secret than the Masons,” that Dead No More reads like Robert Anton Wilson and William S. Burroughs’s government conspiracy novels.

Bodies begin to pile up at Special Branch and in an ever-widening circle of those connected to the conspiracy, including—and how could we do without them?—Vatican intelligence services, one of the greatest go-to tropes of the international tongue-in-cheek (and elsewhere) adventure-thriller genre.

In the third act, we meet the main family behind the conspiracy, replete with a history full of Eton, Saville Row, and the like. With names like Justin Thyme and Van Esther, they delight in their nefarious activities, calling them the Path, the Game, and good old-fashioned world market manipulation. Their family history, steeped in Germanic roots (of course!) makes for a delightful, witty read.

It is here the plot really ratchets up, with a scene reminiscent of the Holiday classic Home Alone, and plenty of quirky adventure tropes to keep the pace pumping along toward the conclusion.

The book has several endnotes that identify links to some of the author’s seven other books, some of which are connected to this story universe and its cast of kooky characters. There is also a parenthetical “buy my books for heaven’s sake, as the Cardinal of Westminster said, agreeing with Mary Poppins” moment, to which I say:

Buy these books indeed.

TITLE: Dead No More (Rhubarb Papers Book 1)
AUTHOR: Pete Adams
PUBLISHER: Gumshoe – A Next Chapter Imprint, 2021
ISBN: 9781034490845