The main character of this book is private-eye Jessie Thorpe, and a relatively believable one when compared to so many private sleuths from fiction. This the first in Schmidt’s proposed series of books, is unsurprisingly based on one of Jessie’s first cases, and certainly his first murder. Jessie is a bit of a middle-class smart arse, who at the start of the book has had an interesting life but perhaps not achieved a great deal. Jesse has many skills, as a guitarist in a group, an odd job carpenter and now as a gumshoe. He is also toying with the idea of writing. Quite a lot of him is quite possibly a younger version of Carl Schmidt the author.
The book runs on a fuel of wry-witted observations from Jesse. The voice is very much confident middle-class, white, American. Jesse is definitely macho, but far from Rambo, relying on the ability to disarm with words rather than violence. Jesse has a firearm but not one that is habitually to hand. His so far unused shooter has been given the name of an ex-girlfriend. The feminisation is presumably supported, though it wasn’t instigated by him, through seeing Rhonda as a dissipater of threats rather than a projector of them. Rhonda is carried to give a bit of Dutch courage when felt necessary, and hopefully discourage harmful activity from the psychologically less restrained. Courage without gin, that is. Jessie would never drive inebriated unless absolutely unavoidable. Hopefully Jesse won’t become just another fictional private-eye happy to spray lead first and follow leads second.
The actual murder mystery is inventive, solved with mathematical logic and, it has to be said more than a reasonably likely quotient of good luck. Isn’t that nearly always the case in real life? If there is one thing we can say is generic to police everywhere, it is that why often make good traffic cops but generally hopeless detectives. It seems the cops of Maine are, at least in this story, little different.
I feared for a moment as the story veered in the direction of psychic practitioners. I can’t deny I was relieved that the case was solved in a sensibly scientific way. I notice that book two in the series is out, ‘A Priestly Affair’, and hope that it displays a normal range of modern detective skills to achieve what I assume will be another PI success.
The murder mystery, at least in this first book, was more of an anchor around which to build interesting back story and a range of secondary characters than the be all of the read. The book would have worked equally well without any murder at all. The fun here is in what is happening outside the mechanics of case solving. This isn’t much of an intense thriller, being more about the drama that flows around the murder. If I may borrow images from film/TV, this is more James Garner as Jim Rockford than Bruce Willis as John McClane. Actually, Jesse Thorpe mysteries would adapt perfectly to the TV series format. The book opens with reflections on modern classics in book and film, as Jesse and a fishing buddy with an academic background actually fish on ‘Golden Pond’.
The writing itself is good, especially where Schmidt allows space for idle chat and scene setting, rather than to the intricate plays of the case. I like reading modern fiction that doesn’t suffer the James Patterson disease of needing a spectacular at the end of each chapter. Yes, there is interest to keep the reading flowing, without a felt requirement for thirty world ending events. We get just enough of the landscape in the authors mind to build our own real feeling interpretations, to visually create our imagined or recall the real backdrop, of the State of Maine. I had no trouble feeling that I was visiting the murder scene.
Schmidt is yet another in the band of independent authors who write as well as, and better than some, lauded authors, but most of whom will never get the lucky, or ‘contacts’ enabled, breaks. For those that like reading good books from good writers rather than just good books by the fashionable few in the front shelves of book stores, I have no reservations about recommending this author. And of course, I hope Schmidt bucks overwhelming statistics to become a fiction writing success.