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by Roger Jon Ellory
Orion, August 2005
464 pages
ISBN: 0752860607

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Roger Jon Ellory is that oddity, an author of one country who can write convincingly in the idiom of another. I have described Lee Child, another Brit, as 'the quintessential American writer' but Ellory is surely not far behind him.

Ellory has written two earlier novels, CANDLEMOTH and GHOSTHEART, set either entirely or in part in the USA. Like its predecessors, A QUIET VENDETTA, is set in that country and depicts part of that nation's history.

New Orleans-born Ray Hartmann, now working in New York City for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Organised Crime, is attempting to patch up his marriage, fractured by a combination of the demands of his job and his increasing alcoholism.

After his wife has told him she and their daughter will see him just over a week in the future, the FBI demands Hartmann's assistance in solving a case in New Orleans. A man has been found dead in a 1957 Mercury Cruiser and his charge, the daughter of the Louisiana governor, has been kidnapped. Someone claiming knowledge of the girl's whereabouts has demanded Hartmann's presence before he will disclose what he knows.

A New Orleans-born Cuban named Ernesto Perez walks into the FBI's base, announcing that he has Catherine Ducane and will divulge her location if the FBI meet certain conditions. He will speak only to Ray Hartmann every day as long as necessary to make all clear.

Perez relates his murderous history from the time when, still a child, he makes his first kill, profiting in knowledge, on more than one level, from the achievement. His involvement in the Mafia is then disclosed, as the history of that organisation as well as 'this thing of ours', the Cosa Nostra, is narrated, along the way revealing the solution to several mysteries, including the death of Jimmy Hoffa. All the while, the importance of family is emphasised: all the while, Hartmann's impatience increases as the future of his own family is jeopardised.

What a tale! For anyone interested in American history, it will provide a gripping read. Ellory is very good at descriptions but, unfortunately, he doesn't curb that talent when describing scenes of guts, gore and gruesomely distributed brain matter.

In an interview, Ellory claimed that his unpublished work is not as well written as his current work because it is 'a little verbose'. To my mind, at least, his writing still suffers somewhat from that symptom: it takes quite some time for the story to grip the reader as the author dwells on various descriptive passages. Later, too, I felt that sections detailing the history of the Mafia dragged a little.

My sense of humour was tickled by Ellory's describing a man about to turn 50 as 'old'. Ellory himself is 40 so perhaps he won't see people of that age as old in a few years' time. He describes Perez as cultivated and the later New Orleans scenes portray him as enjoying classical music, yet the man's past does not show him attempting to educate himself in the fine arts or music.

I was wondering, too, if the real FBI would be quite so accommodating to a confessed killer in pandering to his whims. Something that might reflect on the author's own low alcohol consumption is that he has one of his characters stand up in an AA meeting and introduce himself by his full name. As anyone with alcoholic friends would know, that is not done, unless the person is unusually unaware of the protocols. Anonymity is very important in AA and customarily, speakers introduce themselves only by their given name.

These quibbles aside, the book is very ingeniously plotted and is a good although a trifle slow, read.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, October 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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