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by T.W. Emory
Coffeetown Press, July 2015
247 pages
ISBN: 1603819967

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Take any writing class, and you'll be told to avoid clichés like the plague. And, in most cases, that's good advice. In TROUBLE IN ROOSTER PARADISE, T.W. Emory proves the rule by being the exception. Gunnar Nilson, Emory's clove-chewing gumshoe with an eye for the ladies is every cliché in the book when it comes to hard-boiled detective stories, but to great extent that's what makes this novel such a pleasure.

Nilson, now past retirement and convalescing, tells his story to his young nurse (affectionately known as Blue Eyes), flashing back to Seattle of the 1950s and regaling Blue Eyes with tales of his exploits.

When murdered salesgirl Christine Johanson is found with Nilson's card in her possession, Nilson's friend Detective Sergeant Milland summons Nilson to the scene and wants answers. Nilson has none and sees no reason to get involved until the godson of a wealthy client is accused of the murder, and that wealthy client makes it Nilson's business to conduct a discreet investigation and keep the powerful businessman and his connections out of the limelight. As Nilson delves into Christine's life, he uncovers a dark side to the fashionable store where rich clients shop as well as a mess of interlocking lives and well-nursed revenge.

The characters in the 1950s sections (which make up the bulk of the book) are well-drawn, quirky, and a lot of fun to get to know. The setting - Seattle in the 50s when it was a working-class backwater - is also evoked well with Nilson living in a boardinghouse, driving an old Chevy, slipping in references to both WWI and WWII, and generally portraying a time that may seem simpler than our own on the surface but a time which, as all times do, harbors all the complications of a human soul. And those complications lead to multiple murders, attempts on Nilson's life, and lots of heartache, all of which, luckily for us and for Blue Eyes, is nicely tied up at the end. The way it's wrapped up is however a tad unbelievable, with Nilson having lots of time for explaining that isn't entirely needed: by the time he's explaining things, the reader is already right there with him, although Emory does do a good job tossing in red herrings that lead both Nilson and the reader astray and keep the mystery surprising almost all the way through.

Overall, fans of hard-boiled detective fiction will find very little to quibble with. Nilson is a smart, tough, engaging gumshoe who behaves exactly as expected but does a great job of solving a mystery in a setting that's entertaining to visit. The one criticism I have is the bouncing back and forth between the present and the 50s using the device of having Blue Eyes record the story for an extra-credit paper. The whole novel could have been set in the 50s and left at that. On the other hand, this novel is billed as Book 1 of the Gunnar Nilson series, so presumably there will be more (the ending also indicates that will be the case). Perhaps Emory is laying the groundwork for Nilson to solve current-day mysteries based on his past experience. Or maybe future installments will be set in other decades. Whatever happens, readers will want to follow this detective and his delightful supporting cast of friends.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, July 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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