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Action, Repartee, and Theodicy. What's not to like?
on December 25, 2012
John Carenen's crime fiction debut is a welcome addition to the field. He incorporates notes of Robert B. Parker's Spenser into an amateur sleuth novel, while offering a portrait of a man wrestling with the effort to reconstruct a life that has been destroyed.
Thomas O'Shea has returned to his home state of Iowa after his wife and daughters are killed in a car accident in Georgia. While driving near a small town, he finds himself first at the scene of a ghastly farm accident. He has questions about what he's seen, and those questions meet with resistance. What's interesting is that Carenen balances O'Shea's capacity for action (through a backstory that is hinted at, never explicitly revealed) with his status as an amateur. Meanwhile, the crime plot is sufficiently convoluted to keep the reader interested without pushing the "Oh, come on" switch.
One of the niftier elements of Carenen's work is his cast of supporting characters, including a Native American bar owner named Lunatic Mooning (sort of a Hawk to O'Shea's Spenser), a neighbor with a penchant for rehearsing his own death, and a number of other charming folks of greater and lesser nobility. Even O'Shea's bulldog (named Gotcha) has her own doggy appeal. There's plenty of personality here.
As the cover may suggest, the book also has religious aspects, and while those aren't common in crime fiction, they aren't heavy handed, and they work nicely here. O'Shea's struggles are moral and spiritual, as well as physical, and the book offers violence of the soul as well as the sorts to which crime readers are more accustomed.
In short, what we have here is a story where interesting things happen to people the reader cares about. Reportedly, Carenen is at work on a sequel. I look forward to it.