Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Liquid Smoke

By Jeff Shelby
Madison WI, Tyrus Books, 2011
280 p.    Fiction

It is the first time that I have met surfer/private eye Noah Braddock, but Liquid Smoke is Jeff Shelby’s third mystery in this series. Unlike some of the other mysteries I have read recently, I was able to quickly move into the characters and the plot. There weren’t too many assumed details to confuse me.
Liquid Smoke is a classic PI mystery with all the standard characters to make it fun to read—wise-cracking PI, vengeful cops, loyal friend, awesome girlfriend, and on and on. Noah is approached by a lawyer, Darcy Gill, who tells him that his father, whom he has never met, is on death row at San Quentin. When Noah goes to meet his father, he finds a man who is prepared to die for crimes he admits he committed, and when Noah returns from the prison, he finds Darcy Gill dead at his beach house. The mystery begins here and moves quickly to the disquieting and very dark conclusion. One reviewer says “Shelby convincingly takes wisecracking Braddock to a dark, life-changing place few PI writers have been, making Liquid Smoke his breakout novel.” 

The chapters are brief and to the point. Everything moves along quickly. The dialogue is tight. Shelby is a master of the genre. Each chapter gives just enough information to move us on to the next chapter. One interesting aspect of the book is that there is a prologue which is very foreboding. The reader is forced to admit that whatever happens in this book, it’s not going to end well for Noah Braddock. The reader is also forced to think through the moral dilemma presented by the decisions Noah Braddock makes. I really wonder where Shelby will go next with Noah. He has left him without his entire backup system—no girlfriend, no beach house, and possibly no best friend.

I have been thinking a lot about books in series, and why we like to read them so much. Actually, when I was a widowed mother raising three kids, PI novels in series were all that I read. There was great comfort in opening another book with the same people that I read about in the book I had just finished. I knew Stephanie Plum, V.I. Warshawski, and Mickey Haller intimately. I think that books in series (Private Eye mysteries in particular) are like a pair of old jeans—they're just so comfortable to slip on. 

Several reviewers mentioned the development of the character of Noah Braddock in the three novels currently in the series. So, I might recommend that you begin at the beginning by reading them in order: Killer Swell, Wicked Break and Liquid Smoke. Although I received Liquid Smoke from the publicist, they are available from Amazon. Our local public library has all three.

Jeff Shelby’s blog:
A clever post by Jeff Shelby on The CrimeHouse review site:

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