1391 Under different aliases

The Grey Zone: A Jack Taggart Mystery
by Don Easton

Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2019
$11.99 / 9781459745308

Reviewed by Jolie Won-Hyang Cho and Corrie Shoemaker


The Grey Zone is a compelling police mystery written by former RCMP officer Don Easton. With twenty years of experience working undercover, including seven years with the RCMP Intelligence Unit, Easton has both the life experience and the skill set to craft a gritty and believable police drama. His experiences across multiple cities under different aliases qualify him to weave intricate tales that allow the average reader a peek into the world of high-risk police work. The Grey Zone is Easton’s thirteenth Jack Taggart mystery novel, providing proof of the series’ staying power and Easton’s loyal fans. Fans of true crime and detective novels will enjoy Easton’s prolific work.

RCMP undercover specialist Don Easton

Easton’s detective mystery The Grey Zone follows the adventures of RCMP operative Sergeant Jack Taggart and his new partner Constable Alicia Munday as they examine a case of child abduction that devolved into murder and dismemberment. A new officer, Munday had participated in the original ransom drop. Following her failure to remain unidentified during the drop, an act which resulted in the dactylectomy (amputation of a finger) of eight-year-old Tommy Chung, Alicia blames herself for the botched ops. When rule-touting Alicia is transferred to The Intelligence Unit to partner with risk-taking Jack Taggart, she re-opens the Chung file. In an attempt to redeem herself and solve the case, she works alongside undercover officer Taggart first to identify the kidnapping ring and finally lure the known criminals into a trap. When things go terribly wrong and Alicia is taken captive by Celeste, the kidnapping ringleader, Jack must maintain his cover and implement a precarious plan for his and Alicia’s survival. The plot drives Jake towards catching this twisted criminal and her followers, and dealing justice for those she has injured, raped, terrorized, and murdered. By the end of the novel the reader cannot set the book down, as there is a burgeoning need to see Jack and Alicia catch the criminals and set things right.

Victoria writer and former Mountie Don Easton

For those new to crime mystery, Easton’s writing is an excellent introduction to the genre, offering a detective story couched in realism. The intriguing combination of his detailed and realistic writing style, coupled with his past career increases the novel’s intrigue. However, I would include a warning for those who shy away from violent crime stories. The Grey Zone takes a raw approach to undercover police work and includes scenes of sexual abuse and physical assault. The text also discusses kidnapping, voyeurism, pornography, drug dealing and murder. More enjoyable aspects of realism are portrayed through the environment and the book’s recognizable settings. Individuals who live in the lower mainland, or are familiar with British Columbia, will appreciate references to the Trans-Canada highway, Cambie Street Bridge, White Rock, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Port Coquitlam, Nelson Park and Vancouver.

Easton also peppers his writing with references and acronyms that lend a lived-in feel to his characters. Officers discuss the Intelligence Unit, Major Crimes and Alicia asks about going over to I-HIT (Integrated Homicide Investigation Team), while Jack slyly references “friends” who are informants in the gang world and doing a UC (undercover) inquiry on the Chung family. Tattoo references are dropped like FTW (f*** the world) and the text mentions hell’s angels and drug trafficking (cocaine; opium is discussed in depth when Easton brings the reader into a court room interrogation regarding a drug bust). Easton also allows the reader into Jack’s head through thought dialogue indicated in italics. These moments, especially when he is undercover, allow the reader to feel Jack’s true reactions even when he is forced to play a role. The italicized thoughts make Jack’s moments of concern or panic all the more powerful as they reveal the fears he cannot voice or show. The dialogue and vocabulary of the novel reassure readers that they are tracking with an experienced cop who knows more than he reveals and is unfazed by most revelations.

FTW Zippo lighter tattoo

In addition to the in-world vocabulary and environment, Easton excels at gripping the reader with intriguing short action sequences. The opening of the novels starts with a kidnapping, the threat of a ransom note, police hastily planning ops to rescue a child and a heartbreaking loss when the rescue goes wrong. The scenes read like a crime TV show, jumping from action to action and barely giving the reader time to breathe before new characters arrive. Both reviewers of The Grey Zone found Easton’s action scenes comprehensive and exciting, without leaning into over exaggeration. The established tension kept the reader invested. Easton also has a habit of writing short, tight chapters that quickly jump from event to event. The text is composed of sixty-two chapters over 405 pages with some chapters being only three pages long. His quick, dialogue driven style lends itself well to a detective thriller where the main characters are constantly shifting between events or conversations.

Don Easton as an undercover cop

One of the most interesting elements of Easton’s writing style is his ability to integrate parallel themes throughout his novel. By introducing a new character in Constable Alicia Munday, Easton naturally compares her against the series protagonist Jack. While Alicia is focused on following the rules and hailed for her upstanding nature — “you have a reputation for being completely honest and going by the book” — Jack is known for his irreverence for rules and willingness to take a risk, for example when he poisons a target to buy time for an escape (pp. 70, 383). Easton has fun showing Alicia’s growth from a rule-focused cop to a confident officer who joins Jack in his wild but well-meaning plans to pursue justice. The text also allows Alicia to redeem her reputation and connection with the original Chung case. Working with Jack, Alicia solves the case, captures the kidnappers, and makes things right with the Chung family. Unfortunately, her closure comes at the cost of serious abuse, including sexual abuse, and death threats while working undercover.

Don Easton undercover

Given Easton’s history as a police officer, it is easy to conflate him with the main protagonist, Jack Taggart. Easton’s writing style and character design easily transport the reader into the story. His first six chapters of The Grey Zone are packed with action and risk for the characters. He populates his world with believable characters and follows through on threats to their livelihoods. However, the text is burdened with characters who sometimes draw attention away from the main plot or cause confusion. In separate undercover missions the reader is introduced to constables Barry Short and Greg Dalton. Dalton and Short pop up periodically and leave just as quickly, giving the reader little time to become invested in their futures. When their identities are compromised, Short is kidnapped and nearly dies while Dalton is murdered with a baseball bat. One could argue that these characters are not vital to the main story. While their scenes create tension, the novel already has high-risk scenarios with the Chung kidnapping, the death threats, Jack’s undercover work and later, Alicia’s kidnapping. Short and Dalton’s side missions add to the book’s length and busy plot, while drawing the reader’s focus away from the main characters. Each character can serve a purpose, but the reader must ask “are they necessary to the plot?”

While The Grey Zone could have benefited from stricter editing of a packed roster list and length, there is little we can criticise in Don Easton’s writing. He delivers a high-powered, action-packed ending that will have you flipping the pages, desperate to find out what happens in the end.


Jolie Won-Hyang Cho
Corrie Shoemaker

Jolie Won-Hyang Cho is an employee and a student at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. Jolie values her work supporting the amazing VTEC (Veterinary Technology) program and its students. She is also pursuing an arts degree as a mature student with courses in English, modern language, geography, and sociology. A mother of two children, Jolie believes in the power of learning and dreaming without giving up. She hopes to encourage other mature individuals to keep learning and believing in themselves. She thanks Dr. Corrie Shoemaker for this co-writing opportunity. Corrie Shoemaker is an Assistant Teaching Professor for the Department of English Language and Literature and the Department of Communication, Journalism, and New Media at Thompson Rivers University. She is working on a book project entitled “Speaking of Shakespeare: Conversations with Canadian Artists” and revising her dissertation for publication. As C.L. Shoemaker, she writes for Marjorie Magazine, sharing her love of vintage design, 1940s history, old-fashioned travel experiences, and the gorgeous antique lifestyle. She’s written travel, historical, and research pieces on Paris, typewriters, and the Nancy Drew books series. Visit her website and Facebook page.


The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and writers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

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