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Former Detective John Bekker has been drowning in the sauce for ten years and with good reason.  His wife of eleven years was brutally raped and murdered as a warning to Bekker to back off the investigation of mob boss Eddie Crist.  To make matters worse, Bekker’s five-year-old daughter, Regan, witnessed the violence against her mother and hasn’t spoken a word since.  She resides in an institution where Bekker rarely visits her.

Now twelve years later, retired Bekker gets a strong-armed invitation to meet with Eddie Crist.  He undergoes a forced detox administered by Crist’s people and after a few days of the shakes, finally comes face-to-face with the man he thinks is responsible for destroying his family and ruining his life.  The conversation isn’t polite.  

Crist is dying of cancer and has been given a few months to live.  He surprises Bekker with the annoucement that he never authorized anyone in his organization to kill Bekker’s wife.  “I’d never punish the wife or daughter of someone who hurt me.  I’d punish that someone….I’m not an animal in the woods.  Your wife and daughter have bothered me all these years.”  Crist proposes that Bekker find the perpetrator, even if it means implicating Michael Crist, his deceased hot-headed son.

Of course Bekker resists.  Crist delivers classic confontational news to Bekker:  You’re a no-good bum alcoholic who has crawled into a bottle and abandoned your daughter.  This gets Bekker’s back up until Crist reveals that he has been the one paying for Regan’s private hospitalization for the past twelve years.  Bekker finally agrees to the conditions Crist lays out, primarily no booze during the investigation, and the story takes off.

Al Lamanda has written a thoroughly readable and engrossing novel.  It is a quick read but a satisfying story on several levels.  Lamanda’s writing is tight and spare; like an experienced sculptor he leaves no excess and what remains is essential.  There’s plenty of humor in the right places (cops and doughnuts…have we heard enough of them?  Apparently not.) and more than a modicum of wish fulfillment for the guys:  not one but two women immediately want to have sex with Bekker…and he doesn’t disappoint either.  Lamanda achieves what most amateur mystery writers only hope to do, write a story with a solid hook that delivers on its premise and entertains throughout.  Scoring on a 1-10 scale, this book rates an 8.

 

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