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This is a brisk, immensely enjoyable updating of the private eye and noir genres.  When we first meet Neal Carey he's a graduate student at Columbia, working on a degree in 18th Century English Literature.  But then he receives a call from his "Dad," Joe Graham, who turns out to be the one-armed dwarf who sort of adopted Neal when he was eleven years old and running the streets.  A series of flashbacks shows Graham teaching Neal how to survive and grooming him for an eventual position trouble shooting for a shadowy organization called Friends of the Family, who look after the interests of the wealthy clients of the Kitteridge family bank in Providence, RI.  Over the years, Neal learned everything from how to tail people to how to search a room without anyone ever knowing, and in the course of these unusual studies, Joe realized that Neal was a gifted student.  Eventually the Friends send him to school, but now they need him for a special assignment.

It's 1976 and with Jimmy Carter likely to win the Democratic presidential nomination, he's expected to look for a northern running mate.  Senator John Chase of Rhode Island has a decent shot at the job, but there's one significant skeleton in his closet : his troublesome teenage daughter has run away to London.  Now it's up to Neal to go find her and bring her back in time for the Convention.

Neal is a streetwise and sassy hero, which makes for plenty of snappy banter.  And the London he arrives in is in the midst of the birth of punk rock, which provides an unusually anarchic backdrop to the action.  Add in a priceless first edition of Tobias Smollett's The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle and a double-crosser within the Friends and you've got a mystery that cleverly mixes elements of classic noir with various innovations of the author's own.  Imagine Oliver Twist by way of Raymond Chandler with a soundtrack by The Clash, and you'll capture something of the spirit of the story.  It all makes for great fun and I look forward to reading the subsequent books in the series.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Private Eyes
Book-related and General Links:
    -Don Winslow's Homepage--Crimes Against Literature
    -Don Winslow (Random House)
    -Don Winslow (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -REVIEW : of A Cool Breeze (Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW : of Way Down in the High Lonely (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Death and Life of Bobby Z  (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of California Fire & Life by Don Winslow (Michael Carlson , Crime Time Online)
    -REVIEW : of California Fire and Life  (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)