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by Nick Stone
Sphere, May 2011
514 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0751543233

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Policeman Joe Liston and private detective Max Mingus had been partners in the police. When their old boss, former Miami Deputy Chief of Police, eighty-four year old Eldon Burns, is shot dead in the city slums, Max is not keen to become involved in the investigation. Although he remembers Burns with some affection, he knows that the former Deputy Chief had been essentially corrupt. However, Max is aware that his life is no longer going as planned. His wife, whom he loved deeply, is dead, most of his work is concerned with seedy and depressing divorce cases and he is fifty-eight years old. He needs a challenge, a chance, perhaps, to regain his self-respect. Furthermore, Joe was his friend and because Joe had always been an honest cop, he agrees.

The first part of the book takes place in Miami and, although set half a century after stories involving the classic hardboiled private investigators of Hammett and Chandler, the novel has that kind of feel about it. Max is very much on his own in his search, tough where he needs to be and wholly cynical about Miami, which is tellingly portrayed as a desolate city full of desperate people. The Mardi Gras procession, for example, is dismissed as "narcissistic vulgarity" on the part of people who were "boogieing on credit card-thin ice." In such a milieu Max cannot help but be pessimistic about his future, ageing, alone and doing a job he finds undignified. Nevertheless he presses on admirably with the search for Burns's killer and the plot at this point is quite rivetting.

Things change when Max is blackmailed into beginning a search for a mystery woman in Cuba. If anything the description of life on the island is even more realistic than that in Miami. Cars are ancient American gas-guzzlers, roads fall into disrepair and become tracks, a 'taxi' can be a bicycle pulling a wooden box and pictures of Castro, apparently proud of such chaos, are everywhere. Similarly, a lot of attention is paid to the ordinary Cuban people themselves who, in spite of all they have to bear in a Communist dictatorship, appear almost admirable when compared with the spoiled, materialistic and self-centred United States forces on the island. It is all somewhat overdone, however, and becomes something of a travelogue. The tautness of the Miami part of the book is absent and the story seems to get lost in the Cuban jungle. In addition, characters are introduced to whom a considerable amount of attention is paid, but who turn out to have little relation to the plot. This is a long book and at this point it shows.

The pace increases with a highly dramatic and rather gory ending but Max's heroics are at times a little unconvincing. The other disappointing feature of the ending is that we never do "meet the man with the voodoo eyes," as promised on the cover. There are frequent references to him but he doesn't appear at all in the novel and it is difficult to accept his role as a puppet master and that he is responsible for everything that has happened to Max.

Arnold Taylor is a retired Examinations Board Officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

Reviewed by Arnold Taylor, December 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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