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The mystery begins with political wannabe Shandar Burns getting blown to bits in a car bombing. The crime is witnessed by photographer Jimmy Steel and investigated by Detective Walter Checkers. Add to the mix a group of Vietnamese immigrant prostitutes and an assembly of angry veterans and other assorted malcontents, and we have the ingredients of a noir mystery. Both Checkers and Steel prowl the gritty streets of urban America, trying to piece together who would want to kill Burns and the other local politicians going up in smoke, sometimes literally.

I really enjoyed parts of this book, especially its classic noir criminal world setting and tough-talking detectives who can also wax philosophical on relationships and existence in general (“How could he help? What could one person do for another person?”) The exact place and time is ambiguous. It is presumably a contemporary setting, as Vietnam War veterans are referred to as “old,” yet Vietnamese people are “immigrants” and “newcomers,” while actually most Vietnamese Americans are into the second generation born in the U.S.

Other than the email address title, this novel could be Depression-era in its lack of reference to smart phones, the internet, and GPS tracking systems that are now routine in investigating crime. Both Steel and Checkers hoof it around town from basement meetings to sleazy clubs, talking to shadowy underworld types. Steel takes photographs with film and develops them himself, while I’m unconvinced professional photographers don’t use electronic cameras today to avoid exposing film (which in fact does happen to Steel).

The characters, especially the Vietnamese women, can descend into stereotype in a way that could be offensive. However, the stereotypical view of women and minorities, along with the dearth of modern technology, actually contributes to rather than detracts from the noir atmosphere of the book, and perhaps the story should be set in an earlier era more authentic to the genre. The mystery aspect is not suspenseful or surprising, but the mystery is not the real point of noir but rather its creeping and existential dread.

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Star Count 3/5
Format Trade
Page Count 214 pages
Publisher Ink & Lens Ltd.
Publish Date 13-Dec-2014
ISBN 9781494921187 Buy this Book
Issue OCtober 2015
Category Mystery, Crime, Thriller


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