Book describes how Maj. Guess’s background prepared him to lead hunt for escapees


“Relentless Pursuit” by Maj. Charles Guess is a book written from the first-person perspective of the incident commander in charge of recapturing escaped convicts.

The major is in charge of coordinating the search efforts during the infamous escape from Dannemora. Two convicted murderers, inmates at Clinton Correctional Facility, have escaped and must be captured. The book certainly has value in many areas, but not necessarily where one might expect to find it.

The chapters vary between describing the time the prisoners escaped, with the subsequent day-to-day operations of the search, and the biographical narrative of Maj. Guess. The first-person narrator describes historical events in his life and validates why he was more than competent for the job at hand. In fact, if readers pick up the book “Relentless Pursuit” and expect to read mostly about the prison escape and the outcome of the hunt, they will be disappointed. Almost half of the book is dedicated to Maj. Guess’s professional resume. But that, instead of detracting, is ultimately where the value is found.

Truth be told, the value is not in the prose itself. There isn’t a musicality to the words or provocative images described well enough for the reader to consider after the book is over. The entire book is confusing at times, with too much police jargon, initials and acronyms for the average citizen to decode easily. In fact, the book reads much like one might imagine a police statement would read from a trooper reporting from the field to his superior.

Sometimes it feels like the book is explaining and justifying information although it’s difficult to know to whom that justification is directed — perhaps at individuals who criticized the cost of the search or others who suggested Maj. Guess has traded in his uniform for new-found fame.

The value of the book is in the insight of what it takes to become a New York state trooper. It is a deep dive into the mind of a man who pursues a career in the military and then the state police. He joins a club that is for the elite, and once initiated, members protect their own, even if their actions wouldn’t stand today’s scrutiny. The major almost gleefully recounts the night he slugged it out with a bad guy and seems to shrug off inappropriate use of helicopters by saying it had always been done; the true harm was in lack of discretion. He touches briefly on the deception of a fellow officer when that man trades old equipment of his own (a GPS unit) for a new unit intended for his colleagues. But what is missing is an acknowledgment of where the biography of Maj.Guess (and others in the military and the police) fit in during an era of heightened scrutiny with racial tensions and militarization of the police. What is missing is the acknowledgement that not everyone is as ethical and as community oriented as Maj. Guess.

There is no doubt after reading this book that Maj. Guess had the safety of the community and the safety of his troops (over a thousand) as the first priority. There is also little doubt that there is right and wrong, good guys and bad guys and no middle ground. What is less certain is if the ends justify the means in all cases.

Ultimately, we as a community must be grateful to Maj. Guess and his colleagues. We must be grateful not only for the protection of our community and his leadership in capturing the escaped convicts, but also for the hours he and others like him have spent on the front lines, on the highways, and in the air, diving deep in the water, searching for victims and recovering remains of people we have loved.

We are grateful, but if we have lost something in their relentless pursuit, it is not revealed in the book. Maj. Guess has written his report. It is up to us to interpret.