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The Investigative Search for Truth

Jim Lehrer's No Certain Rest

Jim Lehrer is better known as the executive editor and anchor of PBS's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, yet he has also had a successful career moonlighting as a novelist. His thirteenth novel, No Certain Rest, presents itself as a historical murder mystery. With the help of a few rabid Civil War buffs, National Park Service Archeologist Don Spaniel attempts solve a murder that occurred on the field during the battle of Antietam.

Interspersed with Spaniel's progress are diary entries written by a soldier involved in the incident. This alternation between viewpoints allows us to see the many ways a single incident can be interpreted, but it detracts from drama of Don Spaniel's discoveries.

Sometimes it seems, as Lehrer doesn't know what type of genre fiction he is writing: historical or mystery. The flashbacks give it the feel of historical fiction but Don Spaniel is written in the tradition of Raymond Chandler's Marlowe, a hard-boiled detective who is defined by his work. Spaniel is an archaeologist, so dedicated he is unable to maintain romantic relationships despite his nickname, which compares him to Harrison Ford. His passion sets the books fast pace, but at times, his one-dimensionalism becomes tiring.

Through Lehrer's journalism, you see pieces of the same passionate idealism that drives Spaniel. Spaniel's quest to discover what happened parallels Jim Lehrer's own search for truth as a journalist. This may see a bit far-fetched, until you read the book. About half way through No Certain Rest, Lehrer changes direction: the who-dunnit loses out to revealing the story; Spaniel the archaeologist becomes more comparable to a hard-hitting investigative journalist, than a detective (or Harrison Ford).

The importance becomes not what is found or learned, but rather how the story is told and what truths are reveled. Suddenly the book delves into deeper ideological topics. Like how much of a story, the truth, will and should be revealed. He questions the government's need for secrecy.

I wish the book had revolved more around these questions and Spaniels attempts to answer them, which seemed more in tune with Jim Lehrer the journalist. It made sense that a man who had covered Watergate and is know for asking the "tough" questions would address what kind of things are being kept secret from the public. It made sense that Lehrer's protagonist, Spaniel would be distraught at the thought of hiding the truth, particularly at the government's bidding.

Ultimately, No Certain Rest is little more than an interesting alternative to pop fiction superstars such as Tom Clancy, James Patterson or John Grisham -- perfect for when you a looking for a little mystery and a quick paced plot, but unsatisfying if you want a deeper read.

All criticism aside, you have to give the author a little credit: Only a true storyteller would leave his day job, reporting stories, to come home and write a novel ... and then do it again, thirteen times. Jim Lehrer's dedication to his stories is reason enough to take a look.

No Certain Rest
By Jim Lehrer
Random House; ISBN: 0375503722
Hardcover: 240 pages (August 2002)

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