RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled weekend

From: Larson, Craig ( Craig.Larson@trinidadstate.edu)
Date: 03 Sep 2002

I didn't read another Gold Medal and I haven't started on a police procedural yet, but I did have a pretty hardboiled weekend nonetheless. Here's what I read:

Bill Pronzini. _Undercurrent_.
        The third book in the "Nameless" series (I see a new one, _Spook_, is due in January 2003!), this book has Pronzini's detective following a newly- wed man at the behest of his wife. It seems the guy has been disappearing for long weekends for some time now and she's wondering if maybe there's another woman somewhere in the mix. The detective follows the guy to the quiet northern California town of Cypress Bay, checks into the same motel to keep an eye on the guy, and is the first on the scene when the man is found stabbed in his motel room. A number of potential suspects soon turn up, including a struggling writer of pulp novels, one of whose books seems to have had something to do with the murder. This was a good book, not quite as strong as the previous installment, but a good, old-fashioned murder mystery.

Rob Kantner. _The Back-Door Man_.
        The first Ben Perkins novel. As I read, I kept having the feeling that this must be the third or fourth book, based on all the references to previous cases and other characters, but maybe those were to the series of short stories that preceded the novels. Perkins is a tough detective in Detroit, whose main job is handyman and security consultant for the Norwegian Wood apartment complex. His detecting is mainly a side job and maybe a bit of a hobby, keeping him in extra money to pay for a classic car, an ultralight airplane, and beer and cigars. He's called on by an old, wealthy woman who wants Ben to recover some money she lost to a scam artist who had disappeared many years before, but had recently resurfaced, only to die in a plane crash. The man had bilked a number of people and stashed his ill-gotten gains in a number of places around town. Perkins isn't the only person after the money, and he finds himself teaming up with a shady "detective" from Windsor, Ontario, just across the river. The two travel around town, tracking down the money, locked in an uneasy partnership (Ben has the coordinates, the other guy has the map).
        I liked the book, though as I say, I couldn't help but feel I was coming in on the middle of the story, with all the references to other cases and the characters that Perkins knew well but who were new to me. Also, at a crucial point in the story, Perkins makes a choice that struck me as just a bit too hard-edged and lost some of my sympathy. Still, I think I'll continue with the series.

Kris Nelscott. _A Dangerous Road_.
        Now this was a good book. _Road_ introduces black detective Smokey Dalton, a Memphis private eye who works cases in the black parts of town, for a number of black lawyers and others. It's 1968 and a sanitation workers' strike is ongoing and a number of major figures in the civil rights movement are either in town or on their way, including Dalton's boyhood friend, Martin Luther King. In the midst of this turmoil, Dalton is hired by a woman from Chicago who is curious why her mother left him $10,000 in her will. Ten years before, Dalton received a similar, anonymous gift of $10,000, and he's curious, too. The case takes him back to his hometown of Atlanta and ultimately to the reason why his parents were lynched when he was a young boy. Dalton is a great character--he's smart (holding an MA--his foster parents wonder why he hasn't done more with his life) and caring (he looks after a pair of young brothers who've lost their mother to a life of prostitution) and bothered by the turmoil around him. When he runs into a man he knew in the army, now apparently a Black Panther, Dalton begins to worry that there may be some government involvement in the riots and agitation going on around him. Ultimately, his young charge, Jimmy, witnesses the truth behind King's assassination and the book ends with the two of them on the run. I liked this enough that I immediately checked out book two in the series this morning.

Dan Simmons. _Hard Freeze_.
        This is the second Joe Kurtz novel and it was hard to put down. Kurtz is again involved in the machinations of the crime family he worked with in the first book. His former cell mate is putting out hits on Kurtz, while the cell mate's sister is working to consolidate her control of the family and to stop another family from taking over completely. At the same time, Kurtz is hired to find a serial rapist and killer of children who is something of a chameleon and just happens to be posing as a police captain and who views Kurtz as the perfect fall guy for his latest batch of crimes. Kurtz is also watching out for his daughter, who has barely survived a car accident caused by her drunken guardian--a man Kurtz has threatened if anything like this should ever happen--and who has accused the man of attempted sexual abuse. All of this in the middle of a cold and snowy Buffalo winter. This is a very entertaining and fast-moving book, though it might be just a bit too stylized. The serial killer/police captain comes across as more of a literary creation than a real person, for instance. But it's good to have Kurtz back, and the promise of a third book in the series. And, at one point, Kurtz's secretary Arlene really trashes a certain unnamed detective who has a girlfriend and a dog that he just "loves to bits." She says she keeps reading the series, waiting for the hero to wake up one day and cap the girlfriend and the dog.

Craig Larson Trinidad, CO

# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
# majordomo@icomm.ca.  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 03 Sep 2002 EDT