‘That Old Dead Magic,’ by Robert Randisi

I’m old enough to remember the 1960s, when Frank Sinatra was the epitome of cool, the guy every heterosexual male wanted to be. Along with his buddies Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and a few others, commonly known as the Rat Pack, he held court in Las Vegas like a king. Journeyman author Robert Randisi is writing a series of mysteries based on that time and place. I figured I’d try one of them, That Old Dead Magic. Might be fun, I thought.

Alas, it wasn’t that much fun.

Eddie Gianelli, known as Eddie G. to his friends, is a fixer for the Sands Hotel, where the Rat Pack used to perform up until recently (1965). He solves problems, caters to big gamblers’ tastes, and runs interference for celebrities. Now the Rat Pack’s slot at the Sands is being filled by Sammy Davis Jr. and comedian Jerry Lewis, temporarily teamed up. Eddie G. has never cared much for Jerry Lewis’ shtick, so he doesn’t plan to see the show. But when Sammy asks him for his help in “keeping Jerry from killing somebody,” he goes to see them.

He finds Jerry Lewis the least funny person he’s ever met. Also one of the least personable. But he has a problem. Somebody, he says, is blackmailing him. He won’t say what it’s about, but he wants Eddie to make the payoff delivery, because he can’t trust his own temper.

At the same time, Eddie gets a request from his private eye friend, Danny Bardini. Danny is investigating the disappearance of several young women in town. He needs a pretty girl to act as bait. Eddie suggests a waitress he knows, and she’s happy to get the work. Except that when she disappears completely after a few days, he feels responsible.

In his capacity as Vegas fixer, Eddie has made lots of interesting friends. Not only the Rat Pack and other big stars, but the mobsters who actually own the town. His relations with the police are more ambivalent, especially with a particular corrupt detective. So when it comes down to direct action against white slavers, Eddie turns to his gangster friends rather than the law. It’s a little strange to read a story where mobsters are the white knights.

The plot of That Old Dead Magic was competent enough, but I found the book surprisingly barren. When you’re writing about old Vegas, people expect you to describe the glamor, along with some revelation of the essential tawdriness. But here the descriptions are very bare bones – Vegas is bright and colorful by night, but by day it’s worn out and shabby. That’s it. No poetry. The story had no texture for this reader – I got no sense of atmosphere. And the characters were barely described – this guy was tall, this guy was fat. That’s about it. The only characters I could picture were the famous ones I’d seen on TV.

That Old Dead Magic felt like the skeleton of a story to me. I found it rather disappointing.

Plantations Rebranding

Several days ago, I wrote about Osayi Endolyn’s questions about products that brand themselves with the word plantation. She was specifically interested in Plantation Rum, an excellent French brand with a pineapple rum she loved. I heard her story on an episode of The Sporkful, and today I learned Plantation Rum would be rebranding to get away from the negative connotations of that word in American markets (also via The Sporkful).

Bigelow Tea has changed the name of it’s Plantation Mint to Perfectly Mint. It owns the Charleston Tea Plantation brand, which it has now rebranded at the Charleston Tea Garden.

Changing brand names looks like a step in the right direction, but I’m not sure about changing living history museums and state parks, like Plimoth Plantation changing to Plimoth Patuxet. This reminds me of a tweet I saw this week, saying we are asking for civil equality and they are just naming things Martin Luther King crabs.

Defining Racism as Anti-Racism

Samuel Sey is a Canadian writer who has recently taken up criticism of some of those who would speak for African-Americans today. One of those voices is Robin DiAngelo and her current bestselling book White Fragility. I’m not sure Sey and I would agree on the problems and solutions for American, if not human, racial tension and relief, but I am willing to agree that this is not the book to read about it.

In the book, DiAngelo says: “[white fragility] is rooted in the false but widespread belief that racial discrimination can only be intentional…the simplistic idea that racism is limited to individual intentional acts committed by unkind people is at the root of virtually all white defensiveness on this topic.

That is a complete rejection of the biblical and logical definition for racism. Racism is biblically defined as a form of partiality or hatred against another person because of their skin colour. The Bible says: “show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory…have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts(James 2:1, 4)

Sey says the book is essentially racist in his definition of race and anti-racism. Have you read from this book or heard the author interviewed? What do you think?

If you want more context on Sey’s experience with police, he wrote about that last month.

‘Lost Tomorrows,’ by Matt Coyle

“Rick, you seem like an intense, but decent, fellow.” He looked at me with cop eyes. Military, civilian, they all looked the same. Asking questions in silence. “From the looks of the bump on your head and your black eyes I’m guessing you recently sustained a concussion and are probably still in pain. But you’ve never shown evidence of it. Your eyes stay targeted on that screen. Not just intense, but manic. You’re focused on a mission. Tunneled in. I’ve seen it in enlisted men and COs. I’m worried you’ve lost your peripheral vision. You’re target blind. Blind to everything but your target. Like a zealot. That’s a dangerous way to live, Rick.”

I’ve had a feeling, all through Matt Coyle’s fascinating but troubling Rick Cahill series of mysteries, that the whole project was working up to some kind of epic climax. Along the way, a lot of bad stuff happened, and some of the books were pretty heartbreaking. But I think this last book, Lost Tomorrows, makes it all well worth it (though another Rick Cahill book is coming out down the line. But that one will have an altered scenario, for reasons that will become clear to anyone who finishes this one).

Rick Cahill lives in La Jolla, California, where he grew up and his father was a cop (disgraced, though now cleared posthumously by his son). But Rick’s own short police career was in Santa Barbara. There his wife was murdered and he was arrested for it. The case was dropped, but Rick was kicked off the force anyway. And, for reasons he tells no one, he blames himself for her death anyway.

A call from Santa Barbara persuades Rick to go back after all these years. Krista Landingham, the policewoman who trained him, has been killed by a car in a hit-and-run pedestrian accident. Krista’s sister Leah asks him to come up for the funeral. Rick knows he has only enemies on the Santa Barbara force, but he feels obligated to pay his respects. Just as he paid his respects at his wife’s funeral, in a church filled with devout enemies.

He only plans to attend the service and go home, but Leah Landingham asks to speak with him. She doesn’t believe Krista’s death was an accident. She was working on a big case, and there was no reason except work for her to have been in that place at that time.

Rick tries to explain that he’s the worst person in the world to do this job. Every cop in Santa Barbara hates his guts. Leah replies that she’s actually already hired the retired policeman (now a private investigator) who arrested Rick. He is now convinced Rick was innocent, and is willing to work with him – though he still holds a grudge.

This is actually the kind of situation Rick can’t resist. Full of self-hatred, he thrives on hostile environments. He will soon discover that Krista had been working on his wife’s cold case. Is it possible she was getting close to the truth, to uncovering the true culprit? Was she killed for that? Rick will endure pretty much anything to learn the answer to that question, and then he plans to exact his own brand of justice.

Rick has always followed his father’s rule, to do right, even if it goes against the law. But what if his reasoning is off? What if he doesn’t know what’s right?

Lost Tomorrows is a gripping, explosive book full of dread and moral complexity, ending with a shocker that’s nevertheless quite satisfying. I particularly liked the way the story questioned subjective judgments.

Cautions for intense violence. I didn’t notice much (or any) objectionable language. Occasional references to Christianity were respectful.

‘Wrong Light,’ by Matt Coyle

I’d noticed the car when I’d arrived three hours earlier. A buddy in high school had owned a similar Camaro without the stripes. We’d loved the car and marveled how something built ten years before we were born could be as cool as we were. I haven’t been cool for twenty years, but the ʼ69 Camaro still is.

Plowing through Matt Coyle’s dark mystery series about Rick Cahill, guilt-ridden, self-destructive private eye in La Jolla, California.

In Wrong Light, Rick is hired by a local radio station manager to protect his station’s big star – Naomi Hendrix, a sultry-voiced nighttime talk show host. Naomi turns out (surprisingly) to be as beautiful as she sounds, but she shuns the public eye. And she’s adamant that the police should not be told about the threatening messages she’s gotten. She has a secret past, and she keeps it close.

At the same time, a Russian Mafia assassin to whom Rick owes a favor instructs him to start a nighttime surveillance. It interferes with his job, but you don’t say no to these people. He knows they’re using him as a pawn in some rotten scheme, and he’ll need to figure out what’s going on before he finds himself the fall guy.

And just when he thinks Naomi Hendrix’s stalker is probably harmless, a girl disappears and Rick’s suspicions begin proving horribly true.

This will not end well.

Things work out okay in some ways, pretty awful in others. I’d list Wrong Light as one of the darker books in this dark series. But I’m sticking with it. I’m really concerned now to see what will happen next.

‘Blood Truth,’ by Matt Coyle

I’m finding Matt Coyle’s Rick Cahill mystery series fascinating. Rick Cahill, La Jolla, California private eye, possesses an excellent Raymond Chandler-style narrator’s voice. His essentially pessimistic world view is mitigated by the suffering he’s endured. A lot of that suffering is self-inflicted, because he still blames himself for the death of his wife. She was murdered, but not by him. Nevertheless, she’d still be alive if he hadn’t made one big mistake.

Another memory that eats at him is of his father. Rick’s father was a policeman in La Jolla, an upright and respected man. But he was thrown off the force for corruption, and crawled into a bottle to die. Rick can’t forgive himself for rejecting his dad at the end, but also deeply resents him for his failures.

At the start of Blood Truth, the new owner of Rick’s boyhood home discovers a hidden safe in a wall and invites him to come pick it up. Rick has the safe opened by a locksmith and finds three items in it – a “Saturday Night Special” pistol with two bullets fired, an envelope full of money, and the key to a safe deposit box. When Rick locates the box the key fits, he finds it contains two spent .25 caliber cartridges, suitable to the gun in the safe.

Rick’s code is inflexible – he means to find out what all this means. He assumes it’s evidence of his father’s corruption. It doesn’t matter – the truth needs to come out. People tend to get hurt when Rick goes on crusades like this, and he’ll be sorry about that later. But the truth, first and last.

Meanwhile, Rick’s old girlfriend Kim, for whom he still has feelings, asks him to follow her husband. She thinks he’s having an affair. It turns out to be more than that – the husband’s not just in bed with another woman, he’s “in bed” with some of the most dangerous people in the state, way over his head in a shady business deal going murderous. But you can’t scare Rick off – he’s the kind of tough guy who’ll sneak out of the hospital while being treated for a knife wound, bringing his saline bag with him.

No Rick Cahill story is optimistic, but this was one of the more hopeful in the series. There’s a long narrative arc playing out through these books, as Rick faces down his old personal devils one by one. The total effect is positive. I recommend Blood Truth, if you can handle the dark atmosphere.

‘Dark Fissures,’ by Matt Coyle

Rick Cahill, the hero of Matt Coyle’s downbeat detective series set in the San Diego area, is back in Dark Fissures. I like Coyle’s writing a lot, but this was going to be the series’ last chance with me as a reader. Rick has such hard luck (except for mere survival), loses so many friends, makes so many mistakes and beats himself up so much for them, that I was about to give up on it. If Rick didn’t catch a break in this book, I was going to stop reading.

I’m happy to report that (I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler) Rick actually has a little good fortune this time out. Won’t tell you what.

As Dark Fissures begins, Rick is about to lose his home. He isn’t making enough money as a PI to meet his mortgage payments. Also, the chief of police, his personal enemy, is hinting that he has new evidence linking Rick to a murder. Problem is, Rick did commit the murder – in a good cause. But that won’t earn him any slack from the cops or the courts.

Then he gets a call from Brianne Colton, a local country singer. Brianne’s ex-husband, a former Navy SEAL, was recently found hanged in his home, an apparent suicide. But Brianne believes he was murdered. Some things about it make no sense to her, especially the disappearance of his cell phone.

Rick is dubious. Such doubts are common among the bereaved, and usually they’re just wishful thinking. On top of that, Brianne has an ulterior motive. Her husband’s life insurance policy won’t pay off on suicide. But the more he asks questions, the more he starts to think Brianne might be right. He’s getting hinky reactions from the guy’s friends and co-workers when he questions them. Something’s wrong.

There’s something wrong, too, about falling in love with your client, but that’s just one mistake in a long list for Rick. He will get beaten up, wounded, and tortured before he finally fights his way through to the truth.

Dark Fissures was no sunshine story, but it came out a little more hopefully than the previous books. I liked it. Author Coyle has a continuing problem with homophone confusion, though. “Heal” for “heel” and “swap” for “swab,” that sort of thing. I wish he’d get a better proofreader.

‘The Scent of Water,’ by Elizabeth Goudge

 “Yes, I will,” that is my song. I had not known before that love is obedience. You want to love, and you can’t, and you hate yourself because you can’t, and all the time love is not some marvelous thing that you feel but some hard thing that you do. And this in a way is easier because with God’s help you can command your will when you can’t command your feelings. With us, feelings seem to be important, but He doesn’t appear to agree with us.

Long years ago, when World War I veterans still walked the earth and I was only a teenager, my mother handed me a paperback copy of Elizabeth Goudge’s The Scent of Water. “I think you should read this,” she said.

As some of you know, my relationship with my mother could be described, charitably, as “problematic.” So I did not make haste to read the book. It sat in a drawer for a long time. I picked it up a couple times, but it didn’t grab me. It was written by a woman, after all, and showed no signs of anybody getting killed in it.

Fast forward more than fifty years. Recently somebody commented on Facebook that Elizabeth Goudge was one of C. S. Lewis’s favorite authors. My mind went back to that old paperback (which had gotten lost in the interval) and I thought it would be interesting to read it now and divine, perhaps, what secret message my mother had meant me to learn. I bought the Kindle version.

I don’t know if I figured Mom’s message out or not. I have a couple ideas. But I did enjoy the book.

Mary Lindsay is a 50-year-old unmarried lady living in London in the early 1960s. Once a teacher, she now works in a government office. She lives an ordered life and has an ordered retirement planned.

But one day she learns that her namesake Aunt Mary, a distant relation, has left her her home, “The Laurels” in the tiny village of Appleshaw. Mary only met the old woman once, when she was a young girl, but they connected immediately and her time with her is one of her happiest memories. Suddenly, to her own surprise, she decides to leave her job and retire to the Laurels. She’s been a Londoner all her life, she reasons, and she’d like to experience traditional country living before it disappears forever.

What she finds is the most charming little community imaginable. The whole village is built on and around the ruins of an ancient monastery – her own new house was the infirmary. She gets to know her neighbors – the nouveau riche “squire” and his chattering, insecure wife; the curate and his disabled but courageous sister; the impoverished blind poet and his neurotic wife; and especially the children next door. The children are prepared to hate Mary, because they’ve been accustomed to view her garden as their private playground. But Mary knows exactly how to handle children, and soon she becomes their friend and teacher. Especially the little girl Edith, who will be a surrogate daughter to her.

Through her interactions with neighbors in a community where there are no real secrets, and through reading her late aunt’s journal, Mary enters onto a spiritual pilgrimage. She learns humility and gradually embraces the Christian faith.

There’s a fantasy element in The Scent of Water, I think, and I don’t only mean the dream sequences where Mary envisions the life of a hunchbacked medieval stonemason. The world of this book is one where people can act in thoughtless, weird, and even criminal ways and be met, not with outrage, but with understanding and compassion. The people of Appleshaw are divided among the very wise and the very foolish, and the wise have mercy on the foolish. This is not realistic, but it’s charming.

One of the central images of this book is Aunt Mary’s glass case of “little things,” small figurines that Mary and little Edit both love. The Scent of Water is like a collection of “little things” — a multiplicity of small observations, descriptions full of lists of flowers and trees and everything Mary delights in. It gives the book a rich, baroque quality that leaves a memorable impression.

I don’t think I’m going to become a Goudge fan, but I enjoyed reading The Scent of Water, and was deeply moved by it. I think a lot of Brandywine Books readers will love it.

Musing on ‘The Princess Bride,’ by William Goldman

Look, (Grownups skip this paragraph.) I’m not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending. I already said in the very first line how it was my favorite in all the world. But there’s a lot of bad stuff coming up, torture you’ve already been prepared for, but there’s worse. There’s death coming up, and you better understand this: some of the wrong people die…. and the reason is this; life is not fair. Forget the garbage your parents put out. Remember Morgenstern. You’ll be a lot happier.

Last night I watched the film, “The Princess Bride” for the umpty-third time. Laughed and cried.

What’s not to love? It’s the perfect confection, almost parody but not quite. Self-aware, over the top, but entirely without condescension. Everybody involved seems to be having fun, and they welcome the viewer into the fun.

I first saw the movie in its first theatrical run. It got good reviews at the time, but wasn’t a major hit. Only when home video became available did it find its audience. Now it’s one of the most beloved – and quotable – movies in the world. With good reason.

But before I was a fan of the movie, I was a fan of the book. It was published in 1973, and I must have picked it up around 1978. Frankly, I bought it out of base motives – the original cover blurb called it “A Hot Fairy Tale!” I found something way better than I expected.

The big difference between the book and the movie is what I guess you’d call the “metanarrative.” In the movie you having a charming, funny adventure story, framed by a sweet series of vignettes involving a grandfather and his grandson.

The frame of the book is much broader and more complex. Goldman fictionalizes his own life, claiming his father was an immigrant from Florin, one of the imagined kingdoms in the book. He presents himself as a screenwriter who’s gone full Hollywood. He’s lost touch with his son (in real life Goldman had two daughters). Out of guilt, he tries to connect with the boy by giving him the book his dad used to read to him, The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern. Only he discovers that the book isn’t what he thought – most of it is a long, dull satire on the politics of Florin and Guilder at the time of the book’s writing. The real adventure stuff was just a minor narrative threaded here and there through the text. His dad had only read him the “good parts.” So Goldman has decided (he claims) to produce a “good parts” version of The Princess Bride.

But he can’t resist adding his own commentary, in pretty large doses, in footnotes and parenthetical interpolations. He talks about his childhood, his dreams, his disappointments. The movies he loves. The movies he wrote, and what he was trying to accomplish with them. How his life has consistently fallen short of the aspirations that romantic books and movies arouse in him. The book ends differently from the movie. The movie’s ending is sweet and heartwarming. The end of the book is ambivalent. They lived happily after…. But.

What The Princess Bride (novel) is about is the tragedy of impossible yearning. Most of us respond to the great stories. Our hearts are moved by the happy ending, the eucatastrophe, the fulfillment of True Love.

But we live (and who would know this better than a Jewish author?) in a world where True Love doesn’t guarantee that your beloved won’t be killed by a mugger or a pogrom or a stray meteorite. There’s something in our hearts that tells us True Love has to conquer all. Yet all around us we see that it doesn’t.

I have no idea what William Goldman’s spiritual beliefs were, if any. If he’d asked, someone could have told him about a True Love that does guarantee a miracle resurrection.

Glimmerglass, by Marly Youmans

Who didn’t have ghosts? And she was diminishing, changing–her face momentarily strange in the glass. She had hold of the tail end of middle age; she was an attractive woman, often mistaken for one much younger. Her hair still shone black, with only sparse threads of snow, and her skin was unwrinkled. There might be something left for her, here in the gatehouse beyond the village. Hadn’t she long ago combed her hair with the teeth of pain, eaten the poisoned apple, and married the prince of fire? What more could hurt her now?

I picked up Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, thinking it was a fantasy written by a poet. That’s exactly what it proved to be, but it took reading three quarters of the book to get there. Most of the time the fantasy might be simply metaphor. I mean, a house with seven doors and talk of Snow White doesn’t actually bring dwarves into the story. But elements of fairy magic and oddness, as we read in Lars’s novels and other deep-rooted fantasies, abound.

Cynthia Sorrel arrives at the village of Cooper Patent on the southern tip of Glimmerglass lake (a fictional variation of Cooperstown, “America’s Most Perfect Village,” on the southern tip of Ostego Lake in New York. Village and lake call back to James Fenimore Cooper). She’s open to renting the gatehouse but has no real plans for anything yet. She’s just lost. The spritely, frail-looking caretaker who gives her the keys talks her into staying by assuming no alternatives.

Cynthia keeps to herself for a while and slowly begins to connect to the quirky people in the village, the vicar’s wife first, the Wild brothers, and later the vicar himself. The Wilds turn out to be her landlords, and with them come the main fantasy elements. Their mansion is a labyrinth of rooms that butts into the forest hill. There’s a locked door into the hill, a curious aura radiating from it. One of the Wild cousins went through that door many years ago and was never seen again. And there’s a pale, shirtless boy who stares at her from the woods before disappearing into them. Is that the ghost she felt must be lurking in a house or village like this?

Glimmerglass the novel may be like Glimmerglass the lake. It’s beautiful from the shore, warm, inviting, even with hints of danger and mystery, and alien, if not weird, under the surface. When Cynthia falls into the icy lake, metaphorically speaking, she emerges among chain-smoking ghosts, feathered angels with parasols, minotaurs, and palace dance halls. Sure, it sounds trippy, but it works beautifully well.

Read about this and her many other books on Marly’s blog.

Photo by Parker Amstutz on Unsplash

‘Romeo’s Stand,’ by James Scott Bell

“I can’t do this ish,” Sam said.

“Ish?” Ira said.

“Ah, something my dad told me to say instead of the S word.”

I said, “You don’t say the S word, but you’ll shoot a man?”

“I know,” Sam said. “It’s effed up.”

“I approve of his language choices,” Ira said.

Mike Romeo, James Scott Bell’s improbable intellectual tough guy detective, is back for more fun in Romeo’s Stand, Book Five in the series.

Mike is on a passenger flight that makes an emergency landing in the Nevada desert. The woman sitting next to him has a rough landing, and he helps her get off the plane. Then she’s driven away. When Mike gets to the nearby town of Dillard, he asks about her at the hospital, and they give him the runaround.

Then a local tough guy tries to beat him up.

Then the sheriff tells him to get out of town by sundown.

This is not the way to get Mike Romeo out of your hair.

Through a series of unlikely fights, captures and escapes, Mike discovers and, working with the FBI, brings down a major criminal operation centered in Dillard. While making a couple new friends along the way.

Lots of fun. No bad language. Recommended. Maybe not as good as the earlier Romeo books, but plenty good for a summer read.

‘The Art of Making Sense,’ by Andrew Klavan

The reason we want stories to make sense is because stories are a way of speaking about reality – and reality makes sense. This is a wonderful thing about reality that we don’t appreciate enough. When you see something in reality that doesn’t make sense it’s only because you don’t know enough about it. You naturally want to find out more in order to find out what sense it makes.

In the wake of reading Andrew Klavan’s The Nightmare Feast, I decided to pick up his collection of essays and speeches from last year, The Art of Making Sense.

In four pieces, entitled, “Can We Believe?”, “Can we Be Silent in a World Gone Mad?”, “The Art of Making Sense,” and “Speaking Across the Abyss: Building Culture in an Age of Unbelief,” he discusses the crisis of western, post-Christian civilization from the perspective of a creative, Christian mind.

I was delighted – but hardly surprised – by the way Klavan constantly returns to the central idea, that reality exists, that it is created by God, and that in the end the truth glorifies God. Knowing this, the Christian artist should be fearless.

I, of course, am not fearless. But ideas like this encourage and delight me. I enjoyed The Art of Making Sense very much, and recommend it. Especially for Christians in the creative arts.

Voces8: “Be not angry, O Lord”

Ne irascaris Domine satis,
et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrae.
Ecce respice populus tuus omnes nos.

Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta.
Sion deserta facta est,
Jerusalem desolata est.

Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
    and remember not iniquity forever.
    Behold, please look, we are all your people.
Your holy cities have become a wilderness;
    Zion has become a wilderness,
    Jerusalem a desolation. ( Isaiah 64:9-10 ESV)

For your Spectation…

Today I have a piece in The American Spectator Online that expands on my earlier post here, concerning Col. Hans Christian Heg, whose statue in Madison, Wisconsin was destroyed by rioters recently.

One of my ancestors knew Abraham Lincoln. All right, that’s not strictly true. He was a collateral ancestor of mine, half-brother to my great-great grandfather. An early Norwegian settler in Illinois, he was active in the Republican Party. His obituary called him a “friend of Abraham Lincoln.” I take that to mean he was acquainted with Lincoln through party business.

But this story isn’t about him. There was nothing remarkable in an Illinois Norwegian being a Republican. You’d have had to search pretty hard to find one who wasn’t in those days. Antislavery feeling ran high among them, and they were eager volunteers for the Union Army when the war broke out.

Read it all here.

‘Night Tremors,’ by Matt Coyle

There had to be something in me that liked it this way. Something crooked that I couldn’t make straight. Or didn’t want to.

The saga of Rick Cahill continues in Matt Coyle’s Night Tremors. Our haunted La Jolla hero is no longer managing a restaurant. He’s doing something more suitable to his talents – working for an old friend’s private investigation agency.

But that job mostly involves sneaking photos of adulterers, not a pursuit nourishing to the soul. So when a lawyer approaches him with a case involving undoing an old injustice, Rick takes a leave of absence. Eight years ago, Randall Eddington was convicted of the murder of his parents and sister. Ever since he has stoutly maintained his innocence. Now the lawyer has turned up a witness, a genial stoner who says he heard a motorcycle gang leader boast of committing the crime himself. He even said where he’d thrown the murder weapon. If that weapon can be located, it will be enough to get Randall a new trial. Rick’s job is to look for corroborating evidence, and to keep an eye on the witness’s safety.

Rick takes the case up with a sense of mission. This is what he’d become a cop to do, back when he was a cop. The motorcycle gang is a dangerous one, with even more dangerous connections in organized crime. And the corrupt La Jolla police department, now headed by his old nemesis, is particularly determined that one of their proudest solved cases should remain solved.

But this case is about more than that. Rick is a man who can’t be satisfied with easy answers. His compulsion to tie up every loose end will lead him where nobody wants him to go. And some people will go to any lengths to keep the secrets that remain covered up.

As was the case with Yesterday’s Echo, the first book in the series, the writing in Night Tremors is very good indeed. Rick Cahill is an intriguing character who draws your sympathy. The plotting is relentless.

My only real complaint here is the same as it was for that book – it’s really gloomy. I’m planning to continue with the next entry in the series, but I plead with the author – give us a little hope, please! If Rick’s luck doesn’t turn a little, I’ll have trouble comprehending why he just doesn’t commit suicide. And you’ll lose me as a reader.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture