RARA-AVIS: Michael Koryta/Adrian McKinty

From: Craig Larson ( CLarson@nhcc.edu)
Date: 25 Feb 2005

Last night, I finished Koryta's _Tonight I Said Goodbye_, which won the St. Martin's Press first novel contest. It's hard to believe the author is so young, but on the other hand, the book, which does hit all the right notes for a detective novel, never once felt true or authentic. Lincoln Perry and Joe Pritchard are a pair of ex-cops who've gone into business together as PIs in Cleveland, Ohio. They are hired by John Weston, the father of another detective, Wayne Weston, who was recently found dead, apparently a suicide. Wayne's wife and daughter are missing and John wants them found, and to know what happened to his son, who he doesn't think was capable of suicide. The case escalates from there to involve the local Russian mafia, as well as a real estate bigwig.

It's hard to talk about the book without spoilers, but suffice it to say that the interactions between characters never ring true. ***SPOILER****When Lincoln does find the missing wife and daughter, he grows very attached to them and the wife throws herself at him. It almost reads more like Koryta is thinking "this is what should happen" than as a truly believable plot development. There isn't any chemistry between Lincoln and the woman. Plus, we've been lead to believe that his true interest lies in newspaperwoman Amy Ambrose, so there's an added element of unbelievability in these sequences. This is just one example, but I felt when reading that Koryta was just putting his characters through their paces without really bringing them fully to life. Certainly, a comparison of this book to Andrew Klavan's Bishop/Weiss books, which also feature a two-man detective agency, albeit with much more believable, even if over-the-top, characters, leaves Koryta looking a bit lightweight. If _Tonight I Said Goodbye_ is the start of a series, I hope further books are more hard-edged and believable.

Before Koryta's book, the last one I'd read was Adrian McKinty's new
_Hidden River_. I'm not sure the book is as good as his debut, but it is still pretty good. And McKinty sure likes his femmes fatale. His protagonist, Alex Lawson, is a former policeman in the Ulster Royal Constabulary in Northern Ireland. Lawson stumbled onto some things he'd have been better off not knowing while working undercover in the drugs squad and shortly thereafter, he was fired, having been caught stealing heroin from the evidence room. Now, he's struggling to get by and raise the cash for his next fix, when a couple of things happen: first, a policeman from Scotland Yard, part of an inquiry into corruption in the Irish force, pays him a visit and isn't satisfied with Alex's claims that he knows nothing. Second, Alex receives the news that a former girlfriend of his has been killed in Denver, Colorado, where she was working for a non-profit environmental group. When the girl's father hires him to look into his daughter's death, Alex is able to get out of town for awhile, one step ahead of both the British inquiry and the corrupt cops who'd like to silence him.

McKinty does a great job of describing Denver and its environs (the book jacket indicates he lives there now, having relocated from Northern Ireland). Alex volunteers to work for the environmental group as a fundraiser and is trucked to various neighborhoods around town to go door-to-door, and the descriptions of these neighborhoods never rings false. Plus, Alex and a friend who came along with him find lodgings in a run-down building on notorious Colfax Avenue, a place where it isn't that difficult for Alex to find his next fix. The book does a good job of charting his downward spiral and his self-justifications that he's not really an addict. It becomes clear to him that someone in the non-profit must have discovered that his old girlfriend had stumbled upon accounting irregularities and that that's why she was killed. The group is the baby of a rich young man with political aspirations and either he or his brother or his beautiful wife knows more than they're letting on.

This was a good follow-up to _Dead I Well May Be_, and though it covers similar territory, it never gets quite so gritty or hopeless as that previous novel, though Alex's heroin addiction does threaten to drag him down. He makes a number of poor choices that result in a number of additional deaths and we (and he) have to wonder if he wouldn't have been a bit sharper without the drugs. But ultimately, the book holds out some hope for redemption and ends on a much more hopeful note. McKinty is a great talent and I'll be looking forward to wherever he decides to take me next.

Craig Larson Plymouth, MN

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 25 Feb 2005 EST