Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Dead Detective by William Heffernan

Classic old-school detective work: I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until I read this new novel from Akashic Press. I’d heard Heffernan was good, and I’m sorry I waited so long to read one of his titles. Everything about this crime novel speaks to the traditional style of ‘whodunit’ mysteries: it has an ensemble cast of police characters (the high-level brass is a bit stereotypical), an intelligent criminal, and a string of intersecting events that complicate the search for the killer. Best of it all, it has a badass detective who isn’t simply a genius, but rather a team-player with a special sensitivity for victims and with insight on human nature.

Harry Doyle is The Dead Detective, a nickname he acquired when his past caught up with his career as a policeman. As a child, his mother attempted to murder him and his brother, and only Harry was able to be resuscitated. Adopted by a policeman, he grew up with understandable hatred for his mother and a desire to help other victims. He appears to sense details that others overlook. He also has a somewhat unique ability, for an accomplished detective, to keep both superiors and underlings happy.

The case in this novel, which I hope is the beginning of a series, is about an infamous female schoolteacher, a pedophile who preyed on a teenage student. Her murder early on is mysterious, as she was supposed to be under house arrest. The location of the crime scene, as well as further murders that may be related all create a twisted web for the detectives to unravel. Harry guides a team to the solution, all the while dealing with the impending parole of his mother (who happens to be intent on finishing her work of killing Harry). This is a smart and, at times, snarky novel that makes you hope Harry Doyle reappears with another case to solve.

That said, I had a few technical difficulties with the book. Small things really, but they did distract me a bit from the narrative in a few places. One was early on when a significant witness is being questioned about her friendship with the victim. Despite the detective's focus, she never asks what or if anything happened to her friend, which didn’t ring true. It seems that at that moment, her response would have been to ask what was going on. Her lack of curiosity struck me as 'off'. The other problem I had was an element of foreshadowing that became too obvious-the author repeats, quite often, that the murderer could be right amongst them. Too much information, and I’m not sure why the novel needed that not-so-subtle clue.  In any case, these distractions are not significant enough to ruin a really great crime story.

Thanks to Zach and Johanna of Akashic Press for the Review Copy.
While this book officially releases October 1, it is for sale at numerous retailers now.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a promising start, if it's a series. Thanks for the review!