DB, by Elwood Reid

In the tale of the missing hijacker, truth is more fascinating than fiction
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The Independent Culture

In 1971, a man calling himself DB Cooper hijacked, and then threw himself out of, a passenger jet strapped to $200,000 in used notes and a parachute. He was never seen again. From this engaging premise begins DB, a novel by the American writer (and one-time college football star) Elwood Reid. It's a shame, then, that Reid's imaginative response to the hijacking lacks the brilliance of the real-life crime.

The novel switches between the hijacker, Dan Cooper, and a retiring FBI agent, Frank Marshall. Cooper takes his money and runs to Mexico, finding himself engaged in a string of picaresque adventures before his big mouth and libido land him in trouble. Marshall has no such fun. We find him retiring from a life of taut suspense in the agency to a suburban nightmare of low-grade alcoholism and bungled infidelity. Marshall, we learn, was one of the FBI men assigned to Cooper's case. He had no luck then - Cooper left few clues - and he has no residual interest now, as the novel catches up with him, 13 years later. Marshall's professional interests lie elsewhere, particularly in a case he stumbled across while investigating the hijacking: the skeleton of a woman found in a lake.

Would it be too much to ask for the detective to have at least a passing fascination with the criminal? At his retirement party, Marshall is "pumped" about the case by an agent called Peck, who does have an obsession with the hijacker. The older agent promises to help his young friend should he need it. Peck says he's interested in Cooper because "when I was younger I wanted to escape like he did". Disregarding the incredible dialogue (a feature of the novel), shouldn't we be following Peck's story instead?

Anyway, we don't. We follow Frank's. And it's interesting, in a sub-Richard Ford sense - all decades-old marriage tiffs and post-retirement ennui. As is Cooper's: particularly gripping is a forcefully-delivered back-story concerning the hijacker's previous life as a Vietnam vet called Phil Fitch, a one-time patriot who didn't like the America he returned to, and decided to pull one big job. But why should we care about either man? As we rattle towards the meeting that the novel's bipolar structure demands, one can't help think that it is chance, not design, that has brought these old boys together. After 350 pages of only passably enjoyable prose, one needs more plot than breezy coincidence.