Leo Waterman is one of my favorite detectives, but the
opening of this twelfth entry finds him trying to keep a low profile and stay
out of trouble. In Soul Survivor, which
precedes this one, Leo and his bodyguard, Gabe more or less destroyed a white
supremacists’ compound in Idaho, and now they are both wanted men. They’ve
traveled as far south as they can from their mossy, misty Seattle homeland
without leaving the country, but even in Southern California, trouble follows
My thanks go to Net Galley and Thomas and Mercer, and of
course to author G.M. Ford, whose annual entries in this entertaining series
have become one of the best parts of summer.
It’s a tricky thing, braiding dark social issues with humor, and Ford does it expertly. At the outset, Leo and Gabe find the body of a dead child on the beach. They are trying not to be noticed, but they can’t just leave him there. As the story progresses, cop Carolyn Saunders quietly encourages Leo to dig further into the incident, because the official story smells fishy; she can’t do it without risking her job, but Leo is retired, and as long as he can stay out of view of his would-be assassins, he can pretty much do as he likes. When the story concludes, the role of Saunders is left open. She may be back, or she may not. Her role here is to advocate that Leo stand on the side of justice but within sane limits; this is a role previously occupied by Leo’s ex-girlfriend, Rebecca. The real fun is had when Leo and Gabe team up, since neither one of them gives a single shit about their social standing or, when it comes down to it, their own personal safety.
As far as I know, the character of Gabe, a sidekick with loyalty, heart, and the tenacity of a pit bull, is the first gender-fluid character to show up regularly (okay, twice so far) in a long-running series. I love this character.
A longstanding hallmark of the Waterman series is the large yet sometimes invisible homeless population. This was true in 1995 when Ford published Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca, and that was before homelessness burgeoned and became a national issue. As far as I know, Ford is the first to feature homeless people in every book of the series; although his characters are often quirky and sometimes bizarre, they are ultimately human beings possessed of worth and dignity. I’ve believed every one of them, and so it’s no surprise that I believe the man with the barcode tattooed on his forehead, the one that bites Leo when he collides with him while running from cops. I like how this thread of the story resolves, too.
As the plot moves forward, we have assassins chasing the
assassin that is chasing Leo, and it is simultaneously suspenseful and
hilarious. This is important, because the crimes that are uncovered in pursuit
of the truth about the dead child on the beach are dark indeed. In less skilled
hands, the issue of human trafficking could well trip my ick-switch, that
boundary line each of us possesses where the sordid but compelling central focus
of a detective story suddenly becomes too sickening to be fun anymore; but the
author’s less-is-more instinct is on point, and so once we touch that hot
stovetop, we withdraw and move on to other things, circling back—briefly again—at
Anyone that reads the genre unceasingly across decades
develops a mental list of overworked character and plot devices that we never
care to see again; at the same time, a badass writer can take one of those
elements and make it seem brand new and shiny. For me, the place where so many
protagonists arrive, the one where they are knocked out, or drugged, or simply
overpowered and tossed into the back of a truck (or van, or car) is one that
can make me close a book. Nope; done. But in this instance, the truck abduction is a
critical component, and to try to carry off the climax and conclusion in any
other way would be artificial and most likely hamper the pace. But to aspiring
writers: Ford is an experienced professional; don’t try this in your book.
This book will be for sale July 23, 2019, and earlier
entries in the series are selling digitally for a buck each. Get your plastic
out now; you can thank me later. Highly recommended.