This review is from: The Black Ace (Brad Shade) (Paperback)
Brad Shade's lacing up, at the Swift Current Dome
First off, this is going to remind no one of either Dashiell Hammett or Elmore Leonard. I expect that kind of random boasting from the publisher, but this comparison on the front cover was from a newspaper reviewer. If you like comparisons, the book starts out slow and you're thinking maybe Robert Parker trying his hand at a Myron Bolitar mystery/thriller. But you soon realize that's a little off, the wisecracks aren't said aloud, and are bitter rather than defiant, always directed as much at the protagonist as anything else. They story-telling is off-kilter as well, lacking the conventional linear drive. When the author kicks it up about a quarter of the way through, you might get excited and think this is the next Ross Macdonald. But soon after you realize the twisted tale is just getting started and Gare Joyce is skating his own way to produce a great mystery novel, one of the best I have read in years.
The Black Ace blends two outstanding elements. First is the miswired protagonist. He feels shame when he should feel guilt, guilt when he should feel pride and pride when he should feel shame. He is bitter toward everything he needs, and acts as if that combination somehow adds up to love. But it all makes sense. You don't like him or dislike him, he just seems real. The victim in the story is his antithesis, and the resulting synthesis results in a tremendously satisfying story.
The second outstanding element is the author's masterful and original style. At first the book seems overwritten, with two lines of embellishment for every straightforward line of plot or dialog. It mixes first-person and third-person voice. They are mixed, not just alternated, sometimes the protagonist makes reference to things we know about from the omniscient narrator, things the protagonist shouldn't know. At other times he fails to tell us important details that he does know, important enough that leaving them out is deceptive. The most spectacular chapters in the book, the ones that blow the reader away, are in a kind of anonymous-person voice. The book has the most natural and effective use of ambiguous person description since Lawrence Sanders. It merges introspection, action, dialog, flashback and foreshadowing in complex, multi-layered accounts, like building a myth out of the most seedy and vulgar ingredients.
There are a lot of flaws in the book, but they just don't matter. The plot was bought at knock-down auction from the second season of Veronica Mars after that show was cancelled. Too much of it is explained by a guy who guarded the secrets rigorously at great cost for decades, then opens up for no particular reason to a stranger. The book is filled with loose ends (the suicide car is playing both the radio and the cassette deck at the same time, a biker has a limp prominently mentioned twice but never explained, and so on) while other ends are tied off implausibly in one-off explanations unrelated to the plot. The Native American sidekick is far too passive and indirect, and his mild psychic abilities are a clichéd distraction. The book spends a lot of effort at setting scenes, but once set, the background is forgotten. The biggest example is constant references to cold, wind and personal physical discomfort; but the author never makes it feel real. There is a superficial description, but no depth or detail to make it more than just words. The final resolution is neither satisfying nor effectively unsatisfying, just meh. But, as I said, the glorious writing and arresting protagonist hurdle over such minor quibbles like Bobby Orr winning scoring titles playing the blue line.
I recommend this book most highly. I have not read the first book in the series, nor any of the author's other books, but I'm going to get started right away.