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HCC 043 - 1970/2008 - Ken Laager.

From the first few pages, the novel’s dark atmosphere works as a strong hook, drawing you in through the pain-filled narrative of Joe Dunne, a narrative he relates to a passing American missionary who’s stumbled into the Mexican seaside village Dunne has “retired” to. The atmosphere is enhanced not only by Dunne drowning his sorrows on the lam, however; it starts with the back cover blurb about the plot.

Three young college students go missing in Mississippi while working on voter registration, and the father of one of them hires Dunne to find proof of their death, and then to bring back proof of their killers’ are dead. If that’s not a heavy concept I don’t know what is, considering the politically-charged implications of the real event which occurred just a few years previous. (To be fair, this is not as political as you might think; it’s a PI mystery/thriller through and through.) Dunne’s in this one for the big money, planning on retiring in Mexico after he finishes this job, and ends up taking his assistant Kirby with him as part of his cover. The fact Kirby comes from the deep south herself is a strong asset.

The book’s faults lies with its pacing—the mystery works at a snail’s pace, with clever and methodical planning eating up the vast majority of the story. When the action does come, it’s brief, almost anti-climactic, and the “shock ending” mentioned on the back cover is almost cruel in its random arrival. However, the writing is strong—incredibly so. The characterizations and Dunne’s monologue-narrative are brilliant, both tangible and interesting, a pervasiveness which drives the reader on to finish Dunne’s tale.

Rifkin’s writing, through the persona of Dunne, is amazing, drawing the reader in while introducing interesting new characters, something befitting the slower pacing. His attention to detail, and Dunne’s persona, are amazing as he runs through the PI setting up his investigatory plans and backup-plans. In short, while the mystery is thinly hidden, at least Rifkin’s engaging enough to make the drawn-out revelations palatable to the reader.

Afterword:

Another repost. I have very mixed feelings about this book. It’s less of a crime caper/detective investigation and more of a revenge/assassination tale: the investigation that goes on is all for one final purpose, murdering murderers. In fact, I think the entire novel is setup for its guns-blazing finale. Which is fine, except for two problems. First, having sunk most of the novel into the investigation/setup/murder preparation, the actual deed feels rushed and marginalized—it doesn’t have the impact you’d expect, and felt somewhat tacked-on. Yeah, I’ve painted my way into a murder corner, so here it is. Welp, time to wrap the book up. Second, the “shocking twist” at the end comes out of thin air, is totally unexpected, and has no real rhyme or reason. Again, since it’s so random, wasn’t foreshadowed, and felt even more tacked on, the emotional investment that should be there… isn’t.

So while I enjoyed it, I think it could have been a much stronger piece. It’s fascinating to watch this PI go about his preparations, and as a period piece in the Deep South, it makes good use of a fascinating setting. Rifkin’s got great prose, which almost makes up for his inadequacies. But I think the best thing about the novel is the awesome Ken Laager cover.

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