First, what's Cecil Younger up to? He's a criminal defense investigator, and a big part of his job is coaching clueless felons on how to behave in and around court (like, Don't come to court in shoes you stole ... really ... see a lively Straley interview here). Let's quickly add that not all the criminals are totally stupid; plenty are smart enough to make a profit somehow from their crimes. But as Straley advises, "Reality is always, always more complicated than our ability to plan for it."
And that's the situation for Cecil Younger as this book opens -- a habitual offender already known to him turns up as a client again, and when Sherrie asks him to track down the evidence she's sure will get her through court and out of jail, Cecil of course agrees. The complication is, once he starts poking into the drug and prostitution stuff where Sherrie's been hanging, he finds his own teenage daughter, naive and rebellious, showing up in the same house. Getting her home again takes all he's got (although he picks up the evidence along the way). But his daughter's now a known lever to use against him, and when she gets kidnapped, he's facing major pressure to commit crimes himself -- not just the kind on paper that most anyone might -- and even so, his daughter's life and his marriage are majorly at risk. Here's his wife confronting him:
"Our daughter is missing. You disappear and give me no information where you f*ing disapper to, and then you turn up drunk? Unbelievable. ... The police won't answer my calls. Her friends are frantically trying to find her. Todd is walking around town and just calling her name as if she were a lost dog ... and where the hell are you?" Jane Marie's voice was leaden and accusatory.Cecil's got a lot more pain in front of him, and more disastrous choices -- all of which he's pretty much forced into. (See whether you can figure any way he could have avoided them.)
"I'm going to a card game to get her back," I said ... or at least I think I said. What was certain was Jane Marie threw a dry shirt at me and held out a clean denim jacket. She jammed some loose bills into the jacket pocket and started punching me.
"Get out of my house." She was shrill now. "Get out and don't come back. Go."
I may have fallen down the staircase because I was bleeding when I veered out into Katlian Street in the rain.
Straley admits he pushed the plot to display a wide range of disasters that come from breaking your own hard-learned rules for life. He should know -- he's now retired from nearly 30 years as a criminal defense investigator himself. I sure do hope that means there will be more books from him, a tad more often. But I'll wait as long as necessary.
Now, the big good news as a plus to all this: Soho Crime (imprint of Soho Press) just brought out softcover versions of four earlier Cecil Younger investigations! Pester your local bookseller to stock them all (tell them to go directly to Paul Oliver, a VP at the press, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). Summer reading stack? If you can stretch them out some, you might get all the way into autumn.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.