Chump Change, by GM Ford *****

chumpchangeFrom within the crowded field of mystery, crime thriller, and detective fiction writers, there are three still living who can make me laugh out loud without missing a beat or slowing the pace of a damn fine novel. GM Ford is one of them. (For the curious: James Lee Burke and Sue Grafton are the others.)

I celebrate whenever one of his novels, which had become something of a rarity in recent years, is published, and because of their whimsical yet biting nature, I prefer the Leo Waterman series to the excellent but not funny Frank Corso series.

Had this one not come up like a gift waiting to be unwrapped on Net Galley, it would have been on my Mother’s Day wish list.

When in Seattle, what should one do when a crime is being committed—whether property related or violent—within one’s view, or even to oneself? The knee jerk reaction is to call the cops; as Ford reminds us, we grew up expecting “Officer Friendly” to turn up with his big muscles and righteous justice, brimming with yearning to help the oppressed and exact justice. But that’s a myth. And right now, when SPD is in such hot water for its gratuitous use of violence that the FBI is monitoring its cops and the Justice Department is telling the new mayor that it’s not okay to substitute additional training in place of discipline, this novel could not have been better timed. Waterman falls for the 911 plea for assistance gambit twice, though he is old enough to know better. Chaos ensues both times, of course. When justice comes, it is because of the protagonist’s smarts and his excellent connections in other places.

Much of this novel is set on the Eastern side of the Cascades, out in wheat country near the Idaho border. And there, his fictional cops are about the same as those everywhere in the US of A: easily greased by the squeaky wheels that have the most resources. The gloves are off; the veneer of political correctness that sometimes hides the scruffier side of law enforcement in the state’s alpha city is nowhere to be seen way out there in good ol’ boy country.

Once again, Ford uses what would ordinarily be considered a trite device toward the story’s climax, but stews it in enough crazy juice to make it absolutely brand new. The only mitigation of my joy was in noting how few pages of the story remained.

I also appreciated what he does with his side kick character, who has done a really bad thing, but who is young enough to redeem himself in a fresh situation. The measures of forgiveness and caution are well played.

I hope this marvelous book will receive enough publicity and promotion for Ford’s work to be appreciated by a wider audience than local folk. He deserves it. Just as I enjoy a journey to Louisiana or Montana through the pages of Burke’s literature, or to Southern California through Grafton’s, so should everyone, including those who read the New York Times, be treated to a taste of Leo Waterman and the misty yet gritty city he calls home.

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