[Note: This review based on the Canadian trade paperback edition]
For many years after my introduction to Michael Slade during the mid-80s, it was tempting to compare successive Special X novels to Slade's first two, Headhunter and Ghoul. This made for a somewhat unsatisfying progression despite some excellent stories. The antidote was to appreciate the merits of each novel on its own. Eventually it became clear that Slade has little interest in being nailed down to any formula, genre, or subject matter, except perhaps for his love of mystery, history, and inventive mayhem. Even so prepared, I was stunned to learn that Slade has offered in his thirteenth novel a thrilling departure from the Special X series.
Crucified is sweet torture for the reader who seeks an answer to the still-hanging "who lives, who dies" question at the end of Kamikaze, the previous Slade novel. It's also a superb example of Slade's ability to link seemingly disparate elements--to reveal what they are would spoil the fun, but they exceed the jaw-dropping connections (among Chinese pharmaceuticals, General Custer, and the legendary Sasquatch) found in Slade's novel Cutthroat. Yet the connections are quite logical; Slade has simply looked deeply enough into history to find them. On top of it all, Crucified entails some interesting twists on the locked-room puzzle found in some Golden Age mysteries.
Wyatt Rook, an author who specializes in Second World War plots, probes the crash site of a British bomber downed over Germany in 1944. As he tries to learn the fates of missing airmen, Rook runs afoul of murderous conspirators who are determined to acquire religious artifacts on behalf of the Vatican.
Crucified includes some fine, realistic exposition of Royal Air Force bomber crews' daily routines. The passages seem to stem from first-hand interviews. If so, it's commendable that Slade has saluted war heroes from another era before they pass on. Tight, smooth, and engrossing throughout, Crucified is the work of a novelist moving onward and upward. Even far from the familiar ground of Special X, Slade flies high, straight, and true. It's a most welcome adventure.