Review: "Journey" by Catherine Arnold (Harrison Arnston?)



by Catherine Arnold (Harrison Arnston?)

iUniverse, 2003



In the early-1990s my parents sprang for a subscription to the bulletin board service Prodigy. Prodigy was a predecessor to AOL and (ultimately) to the commercialized internet we have today. Basically, Prodigy was a bunch of bulletin boards where people with similar interests gathered to chat about what made them excited. I tended to spend my time—or perhaps misspend my time—on boards about books and baseball. One of the boards I frequented was called Harry’s Bar & Grill. Its operator was a thriller writer named Harrison Arnston. He went by Harry in both the real and digital worlds, but his novels were published as “Harrison”.

Harry was a renaissance man—cool, successful, and kind. His board was about writing and he knew what he was talking about. When I first met Harry—the digital version anyway—he had published four novels; all paperback originals released by Zebra. In 1984, Harry had sold his successful California “auto-accessory company,” moved to Palm Harbor, Florida, and set out to write thrillers. It didn’t come easy, either. After reading his first thriller, which was never published, one agent told him to find another hobby. But Harry wrote another and then another before he found print with Zebra.

Harry was the first “real” writer that took an interest in me, or at least made me feel like he did, and I loved every piece of advice he gave me and anyone else that wandered into Harry’s Bar & Grill. In the early-1990s, HarperPaperbacks became Harry’s publisher and the quality if his work noticeably improved. Jon L. Breen noted that Harry’s legal thriller, Act of Passion (1991), was “unusually well plotted” and every book Harry wrote was better than the last. Harry’s journey ended prematurely in 1996, he was 59, after a brief battle with lung cancer, but I’ve always wondered what he would have produced if he hadn’t died.

My point? I think I found Harrison Arnston’s final novel. It was self-published by Arnston’s widow, Theresa Sandford-Arnston, using her pseudonym, Catherine Arnold, with the title, Journey. Unfortunately, Ms. Arnston died in 2016 and so I can’t ask her. I haven’t been able to make contact with any of his or her family, either. And I’ve tried. But after reading Journey—which is a cool take on an X-Files theme—I’m convinced it was written by Harry Arnston because it is stylistically similar to his last few published novels. Another clue, and it is a big one, comes from Harry’s St. Petersburg Times obituary (Feb. 4, 1996) stating his agent was peddling a novel titled Journey.

My only hesitation about Journey belonging to Harry Arnston is, back in 2008 I exchanged emails—at least three or four—with Theresa Arnston about Harry and she said his only unpublished book was a thriller titled American Terrorist. Journey had been published five years earlier, but I’m puzzled why she wouldn’t have told me about Journey.

Now, a little about Journey. It was obviously written in the mid-1990s because it mentions the first World Trade Center bombing and the Waco siege (both in 1993), and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, but nothing significant after that. There are a few add-ins, a line here or there that feel like they were dropped in by another writer and don’t exactly fit the overall context. One such add-in is a mention of the 2002 film, The Hours. Journey has that big 1990s thriller feel, too—weighty problems, significant background detail, lightweight characterization, but still richer than most current genre thrillers, and a quality of we can do it hopefulness that we seemed to lose after 9/11.

Everything begins when a 747 disappears from an air traffic controller’s radar screen. There is no evidence the airliner crashed, changed course, or exploded. It simply disappeared. The investigation is handed to the FBI, but—against all protocols—the Pentagon assumes control with the blessing of the Department of Justice’s top suits. A development that irks the FBI’s top investigator, Jack Kalman, enough that he takes leave and starts his own investigation.

There is a bunch of detail about how air traffic control worked in the 1990s, including the ramifications of when Ronald Reagan broke the union in the 1980s. The action is swift and—especially the first two-thirds while the happening is a still a mystery—intriguing. There are several repetitive passages, but none are overly long, and I bet if this had been published in Arnston’s lifetime they would have been fixed. A strange prologue—strange because it was obviously written by another writer—is attached with little relevance to the narrative and there are a few odd typos in the text. Odd, because it seems like the wrong word was used. But overall, Journey, is an attractive, high-speed, flight that would have been even better if it had been published when it Harry Arnston wrote it.

Click here for the Kindle edition or here for the paperback at Amazon.

I wrote a biographical article about Harrison Arnston a few years ago—which you can read here.


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