I like mystery novels with deep characterization, likable (if flawed) detectives with an interesting circle of friends, and intriguing puzzles that are solved by turning up leads, working them hard, making deductions, and getting the occasional burst of inspiration. The first two of Michael Koryta's Lincoln Perry novels fit this bill pretty well.
I dislike mystery novels that use the cliched "Detective in Peril" plot line. First, such plots are too hard to believe. Real-life criminals almost never pursue the detectives that are on their trails, play cat-and-mouse with them, torment them, or threaten to rape, murder or kidnap their spouses, partners, friends or lovers. Second, these excessively dramatic plots tend to overshadow all of the elements I mentioned above as things I like about detective fiction. It's hard to make cynical wisecracks when you're in danger of losing everything you hold dear. Lazy American mystery writers (among whom we must now number Mr. Koryta) love these plots, because they provide an easy way to raise the stakes of the investigation, crank up the suspense level, and excuse a healthy dose of satisfying revenge-violence. I hate them, because they strain credulity and suck most of the fun out of the novel.
My main beef with A Welcome Grave is that it's just too unpleasant. While we don't expect fictional detectives to lead lives of careless merriment, neither do we expect them to undergo the trials of Job. In this book, Lincoln Perry's plate is piled high with dirt sandwiches. Two criminals outwit and torment him at every turn. He has to worry about both the physical and psychological well-being of all three of the people he cares about most--his partner, his best friend, and his first great love. Every one of his personal relationships is strained. He is constantly reminded of his greatest mistakes, and is repeatedly thrown together with the woman who broke his heart. Both of his current jobs are threatened. He is pursued by hostile cops from two states who suspect him of multiple crimes that could put him away for life. The Cleveland setting is none too glamorous, either.
When relief from (almost) all of these problems finally comes near the end of the novel, it isn't because of Perry's clever detective work or any innate virtue on his part. Rather, his problems are solved by the timely intervention of two outsiders who don't have any credible motive for helping him out, Deus ex machina style.
I give the book two stars because I admire Mr. Koryta's writing style and character development. This was not, however, an enjoyable read. Unless your taste in detective fiction runs to the unremittingly grim, as is apparently the case with all the five-star reviewers here, you may wish to give this one a pass, or skip to the next installment in the series.