Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


Man in the Middle by Brian Haig








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Brian Haig reprises protagonist Sean Drummond for another mystery thriller titled, Man in the Middle. This is a story of revenge and retaliation, with a full quota of plot twists, not all of which are obvious. Haig entertains, and clearly has fun in expanding Drummond. While Haig can be a little preachy at times, most readers are likely to appreciate his wit. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter Two, pp. 16-20:


The moment Bian Tran stepped out of the bedroom, I shifted posi­tion, closer to the bed and directly behind the forensics specialist, who remained bent over the body, manipulating tweezers and pick­ing debris off the sheets. I cleared my throat and asked, “What are we seeing here?”

“It’ll all be in my report,” he replied. “Okay, but—”

“Aren’t you listening? I said it’ll be in my report.”

I allowed a moment to pass. Then I withdrew a pen and a small green notepad from my pocket. “What’s your name?”


“Your name—spell it.”

He straightened up. “What are you talking about?”

“For my report.”

“What the—”

“Back at the Bureau they throw monumental fits over silly things like misplaced modifiers and split infinitives. Misspellings really make them pissy.” I added, “I think it’s because we hire too many lawyers and accountants. You know? Totally anal.”

“I still don’t know what—”

“It’s fairly simple. I can spell ‘impeding a federal investigation.’ I just need to be sure I get your name right, Mr ….?” 

“Reynolds.. . Timothy Reynolds.” He turned around and faced me, and in a nasal, whiny voice, said, “I’m just trying to do my job.”

“Aren’t we all, Tim?” I flashed my phony FBI creds in his face. “Now what are we seeing here?”

Timothy looked around for a moment, obviously torn between doing his job and mollifying the impatient prick with the federal badge. He insisted, “Well, nothing conclusive. On the surface, it ap­pears the victim committed suicide.”

I let a moment pass and asked, “What about below the surface?”

“You must understand that I can’t answer questions with any ac­curacy until everything’s run through lab analysis.”

“Of course.”

“Also I haven’t yet taken prints from the gun.”


“Obviously, this is very important, and—”


“A complete toxicology and serology will need to be worked up. If the victim was on drugs or under the influence of alcohol, that can—”

Holy shit. “Shut up, Tim.” I took a deep breath and tried to recall my question. “Is there any physical matter we should be concerned about at this stage of the investigation?”

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Tim glanced over his shoulder at the body and replied, “Well, it’s interest­ing. What I think is—”

“Tim . . . did I ask what you think? Facts.”

“Oh. . .all right. For starters, the sheets on this bed are changed and washed weekly. The maid informed us. This is relevant and im­portant information. It establishes time frame. The particles and resi­due on this sheet were deposited within the last seven days.”

I flipped open my notebook, scribbled, and said, “Time frame . . . yes, yes, always important. . .“ Actually, I began sketching Tim, standing perfectly erect, tottering on a chair, noose around his neck, arms straight, extended and. . .

“There are a lot of the victim’s hairs on the pillow,” Tim contin­ued, “and sweat residue. But you expect that. Everybody sheds and sudates when they sleep. But there are other hair particles and strands as well.”

I erased the chair, Tim’s legs were kicking furiously, and—I looked up—”Not his hair?”

“Well. . . you can see that his hair was gray, coarse, and cropped very short. There are some red hairs, and also some very fine blonde hairs. Both are quite long, which suggests they could be from fe­males . . .” He turned tentative again, and added, “That’s a hypothesis on my part. A chromosonal analysis is needed before a firm conclu­sion can be reached.”

“More than one woman?”

“Well . . , I would say at this point—”

“Yes or no.”

“Uh. . .yes.”

Goodness. Despite Tim’s pathological aversion to phrases, this suddenly took an interesting turn. I asked you finished the bathroom yet?”

“I did that first. Bathrooms are always gold mines.”

“And what did we find there?”

“More hair. Both black and red, as well as some of the victim’s hair in the sink, probably from shaving. And the usual pubic traces on the toilet seat.”

“Further confirming the presence of more than one female?”

“It appears. . . yes, perhaps as many as three.” He knew what my next line of questioning would be and added, “I ran an infrared light over the sheets. There are interesting traces . . . probably semen. I don’t know whether these traces are new or old.”

Like that, Cliff Daniels went from the ubiquitous man in a gray flannel suit to something far more complicated and mysterious. This raised a number of evocative questions, not to mention a few dark and dubious possibilities.

Anybody who beds two different women inside one week likes to live on the edge. This guy didn’t have to whack himself—just arrange for the two or more women to show up together and they’d take care of things for him.

Indeed, that, or some variation thereof, might be what happened here. I looked at the corpse on the bed and asked myself the obvious question: What was Clifford doing in the hour before the trigger was pulled? Did he die alone? Or with company?

To Tim I asked, “Is there any indication he was having sex at the time of, or shortly prior to, his death?”

“It does seem an obvious conclusion, doesn’t it? I intend to take epidural traces from his penis for the lab. However, from what I’ve seen.. . or didn’t see—specifically, no visible traces of sperm, or crust of vaginal fluid on his penis—it’s possible the victim was stimu­lating himself.”

Tim looked at me expectantly as I weighed whether to ask him another question or just kill myself. When I remained silent, he said, “Can I return to my work?”

“What’s stopping you?”

“Well. . .you are.”


“Oh. . . that’s a joke.” He emitted a sort of high-pitched laugh.

I looked at him and said, “If anything interesting pops up, call me immediately. I’ll be in the living room.” I turned and started to walk away when I was struck by an afterthought, and turned back around. “Uh...?”

He stared at me.

“How many suicides have you investigated?”

“I don’t know. A good many. This is a high-stress area code. Within the county, we experience more suicides than homicides.”

“How many of those suicides involved guns?”

“A few. Perhaps three this past year. Overdoses and slashed wrists are the norm. A majority of our suicide victims are teenagers who can’t afford—”

“I understand. . .thank you.” I asked Tim, “Did you observe any blood splatter on the gun?”

“Yes, some. It was fired from very close range, and there was a volume of blowback. Also, even visually, I can detect powder residue on the victim’s left temple. That means—”

“I know what it means.” I asked, “Have we confirmed if the pistol belonged to the victim?”

“Not yet. The serial number is unobservable until we turn it over. We don’t rearrange the evidence until after I’ve finished my site inspection.”

I pointed at the silencer on the end of the pistol. “Have you ever seen a suicide where the victim used one of those?”

“Uh. . .”

I remembered to specify, “Yes or no?”


“Does the silencer strike you as odd?” “I leave the conclusions to the detectives.” “As you should. Except I’m asking your opinion.”

“Yes. It is unusual.” In fact, I was sure Tim regarded it as more than unusual—even suspicious—though, sucked inexorably back into his orbit of qualifiers and modifiers, he suggested, “You could postu­late, I suppose, that the victim didn’t want to disturb his neighbors. A final act of courtesy, so to speak. Or he didn’t want to be discovered. I’ve seen suicides where the victim went to great lengths to avoid attention.”

“I see.” Sometimes it’s the little things. Essentially, in almost every way this looked like a suicide; that is, every way but two. To begin with, that petrified expression on Daniels’s face—eyes wide open, mouth contorted, a mixture of frozen shock and amazement. It’s my impression that most people, in the millisecond before they blow a bullet through their own flesh, reflexively shut their eyes, purse their lips, and contract their facial muscles—this is going to hurt, a lot, and the mind and the body respond instinctively, even reflexively, toward the anticipation of pain.

Ergo, shock and surprise seemed wrong. After all, the act of sui­cide was his idea. Relief, anger, sadness, pain—these, or some com­bination of these, are the expressions one would expect on his death mask.

Plus, the silencer was weird. If I assumed the pistol was Clifford’s weapon, silencers are hard to come by, expensive, and, even for radi­cal gun lovers, an unusual accessory. I mean, gun nuts live for the big booms. No, silencers are an instrument of assassins.

Neither of these incongruities was entirely dissuasive of suicide, and neither alone implied murder. Taken together, however, they raised doubts, and doubts are like termites; ignore them at your own peril.

I was about to ask Tim another question when I heard footsteps. I turned around in time to see Major Bian Tran, accompanied by a tall, lanky black gentleman in a tweed blazer, walk through the doorway into the bedroom. The gentleman looked amazingly like that actor who played Alex Cross in Along Came a Spider, down to the pock­marked face, high cheekbones, salt-and-pepper hair, and thoughtful brown eyes. Weird.

The gentleman was staring at me with a pissed-off expression. Major Tran, also with an eye on me, had an amused squint.


If you’ve guessed that the relationship between Major Tran and Sean Drummond will develop in complicated ways on these pages, you’re right. Man in the Middle has Drummond working for the CIA, and tied up in beltway politics and bureaucracy.


Steve Hopkins, February 23, 2007



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