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by J. L. Abramo
St. Martin's Minotaur, April 2003
243 pages
ISBN: 0312308493

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

CLUTCHING AT STRAWS is J.L. Abramo’s second book in the Jake Diamond Private Investigation series. Jake Diamond is not the stereotypical modern detective; in fact his style is more reminiscent of the heroes of Chandler and the other founders of the hardboiled genre. Diamond has a secretary, Darlene, that keeps him out of trouble and watches his diet. Darlene is also an amusing sarcastic character who plays off of Diamond, which results in enjoyable dialogues. Diamond is in love with his ex-wife, with whom he is trying to rebuild a romance. Diamond is also a sucker. He has a hard time telling clients no; usually because something about their case appeals to him.

In CLUTCHING AT STRAWS, Diamond is first hired by Lefty Wright, a very well educated burglar. Lefty was paid to break into Judge Chancellor’s house and retrieve an envelope. Unfortunately, he stumbles upon the body of the Judge and is arrested for his murder. Diamond agrees to take the case simply because something about the entire situation fascinates him. His next client is a rich man who wants to know if his son was involved in his own kidnapping. Diamond really does not want this case but he begins to look into it regardless. Diamond quickly realizes that both cases are intertwined and will unlikely have a happy ending. Diamond needs to overlook the fall guy (Lefty) and solve both cases before the murders of several prime suspects have eliminated all of his clues.

Abramo has succeeded in one of the most attempted and difficult genre imitations. He has taken the feel of the original hardboiled detective story and transferred it to modern society, without losing any of the characteristics intrinsic to the story. Although the book takes place in the present day, there are moments were the story feels timeless. Not so much as it could happen anywhere at anytime, but that Abramo’s style fits into any time period of the genre. CLUTCHING AT STRAWS stays true to Abramo’s predecessors while still providing an updated modern version.

CLUTCHING AT STRAWS is an enjoyable “old-fashion” feeling mystery that looks at the modern political scene from the PI’s perspective. Politics is frequently an extension of the stereotypical “Old Boy’s Club” and this is no exception. Abramo has political cover-ups, which do not make sense in the context of the story until the very end. This use of political cover-ups is very indicative of the styles of the early hardboiled mystery writers.

Abramo does have some areas that need to be cleaned up regarding of his strengths, for example there were a lot of unnecessary tangents; however, Abramo is an important author to track through his career and his future within the genre.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, April 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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