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Purgatory Chasm: A Mystery (A Conway Sax Mystery) Hardcover – May 10, 2011

42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Advance Praise for Purgatory Chasm:

“Genuine characters and intense action--a serious crime novel with serious edge.” – Patrick Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Breach

Purgatory Chasm grabs you at the gate and doesn’t let go, careening through a top-notch whodunit to an ending you don’t see coming. A debut this good makes you wonder what Ulfelder’s holding back for the next race.” –Sophie Littlefield, Edgar Award-nominated author of A Bad Day for Sorry

“Holds a hot, ominous idle just until Ulfelder engages gears and hits the gas, pinning you back against the seat, hopeless to leave before the end of the ride. One of those rare debuts that leaves you immediately eager to see what is next.” --Michael Koryta, award-winning author of The Silent Hour and The Cypress House

“Ulfelder’s voice makes the tale as powerful and true as rocketing down the back straight at Martinsville Speedway. He’s given us living proof that scars are sometimes the only legacy we can pass down from one generation to the next.” -- Louise Ure, Shamus Award winning author of Liar’s Anonymous

About the Author

Steve Ulfelder is an amateur race driver and co-owner of Flatout Motorsports, a company that builds race cars. He was a business and technology journalist for 20 years. In addition to trade and automotive magazines, he wrote for the Boston Globe, Boston magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many others. Purgatory Chasm is his first novel.


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Product Details

  • Series: A Conway Sax Mystery (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312672926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312672928
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,705,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A former journalist, Steve Ulfelder is now co-owner of Flatout Motorsports, a company that builds and services race cars, and an amateur race driver. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and lives in Massachusetts with his family.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ulfelder's hook for this rousing tale of murder and mayhem is the unconditional support among members of a long-time sobriety group of 12-step folks who call themselves "the Barnburners". Most exclusive is the "meeting-after-the-meeting", where a select group helps one another whenever a request for aid is made. Consequently, when Tander Phigg, a fellow Barnburner, asks for Conway Sax's help in retrieving his classic Mercedes from a body shop in Rourke, New Hampshire, Sax is inclined to make inquiries on Phigg's behalf. An auto mechanic with a short, but memorable history with the NASCAR circuit, Sax did a bit for manslaughter, lost some years to the oblivion of alcohol and knows his way around both sides of the law. Essentially a sober bad boy, complete with commitment phobia and a very patient girlfriend, Conway doesn't take it lightly when he is rewarded for his efforts with a knock-out blow to the head at Motorenwerks.

Conway's next encounter with Tander is in a run-down shack on Phigg's undeveloped property that belies a family history of wealth, leaving Sax with a disturbing puzzle and no easy solution. No matter. Ulfelder writes with a sharp wit and the kind of heady abandon found in some of the best contemporary fiction, a bit James Lee Burke, a bit Lee Smith, but with his own particular voice. Once begun, the plot is propelled form one insane incident to another, Conway's best intentions slipping away as a simple favor becomes more complex, the cast more devious and the stakes far in excess of expectations in doing a favor for a fellow Barnburner. There are sympathetic characters- notably Phigg's son, Trey- Conway's multitude of sober friends, his girlfriend, even remnants of Tander Phigg's glory days as a photographer in New York in the 60s.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on May 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In Framingham, Massachusetts auto mechanic Conway Sax detests insufferable Tander Phigg, but the man belongs to the Alcoholics Anonymous Barnburner group. The Barnburners saved his life by sobering him up so Conway vowed to repay them whenever he can.

Thus when the pig Phigg asks Conway to retrieve his 1980 Mercedes from New Hampshire Das Motorenwerk garage that has possessed his vintage auto for eighteen months, Sax reluctantly agrees. However, the seemingly simple request turns convoluted when someone at the garage knocks him out and later he learns someone killed Tander. The police suspect Sax of the murder as he is an ex con who has been fingered for being the last person seen with the deceased. Conway has two missions to resolve: first prove his innocence and second get the vehicle.

Loaded with twists and spins, Purgatory Chasm is an exciting action-packed amateur sleuth mystery starring a fascinating flawed individual. Conway makes the tale work as a person in trouble who investigates the murder while also planning to repo the car. His past is nicely interwoven into the strong plot so that readers understand why he feels obligated to the Barnburner group.

Harriet Klausner
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Introne on June 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're looking for a fun summer read, love mysteries, and have an affinity for car guys - you'll love Purgatory Chasm. Great twists keep you on your toes and guessing every step of the way. Non-stop action, and characters that are charming, in their dirt-under-the-nails kinda way. Very pleased, and highly recommend the book. Great job Mr. Ulfelder!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ray Salemi on May 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When Conway Sax fixes your truck it stays fixed. When he builds a house it stays built. And, when he says he'll get your car back from a disreputable mechanic, by God, he gets that car.

Reminiscent of Spenser and Crash Davis before him, Conway Sax is the kind of man who knows who he is, knows how to do a job right, and does what he say's he'll do. He's the kind of man who has a story to tell, but doesn't need to hear himself talk.

Purgatory Chasm is the perfect book for a guy like Conway Sax, because like Sax, Steve Ufelder is a master craftsman. The story is solidly built and lovingly finished. There are no loose ends, no murky motivations, and no flabby scenes. Every piece fits together to create a solid mystery that will withstand the test of time.

Purgatory Chasm is a job well done.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Darcia Helle VINE VOICE on May 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Purgatory Chasm starts off with tremendous promise. The writing is smooth, with lots of well written dialogue that moves the story forward while also giving us a great feel for the characters. Ulfelder's style is quick and uncluttered, immersing us in the story as the suspense builds.

Unfortunately, it all fell apart for me early on. I didn't find the plot or the characters' behavior believable.

Some highlights:

- Conway Sax is street smart, independent, on parole, jobless, and inexplicably gets total financial support from his girlfriend while he does whatever he wants instead of looking for a job.

- Said girlfriend, an independent, opinionated, single mother, is ridiculously tolerant of Sax's childish and selfish behavior, gives him the cold shoulder when he isn't around enough, but never once suggests he grow up and support himself.

- Never once do we learn where the girlfriend is getting enough money to support herself and her daughter, and also support her boyfriend and his grand adventures.

- Sax has blind dedication to a secret group within the AA that apparently extends beyond death and also apparently does not require any other member of this same group to help in any way.

- Sax not only helps his AA friend, but also, for reasons unknown, risks his life to help two people who'd knocked him unconscious and flattened his tires.

- A family who didn't know Sax at all instantly trusts him and moves into his home.

- Sax is knee-deep in murder, has all sorts of leads and evidence, but lies to the cops and conceals most of what he finds.

- All cops are incompetent.

This story does have some high points. The dialogue felt genuine and offered some comic relief around the crime. The first person narration worked well for both the story and the Sax's character. But the execution here just didn't work for me.
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