I've long been a fan of James Lee Burke's novels, never expecting to find another author with the same depth of characters and moral labyrinths. After stumbling upon an online interview with Mr. Blauner, I decided to give this book a shot.
"Slipping into Darkness" parallels the story of Julian Vega, a young man convicted of murder, and Francis Loughlin, the one responsible for putting Vega away for twenty years. Now, released from prison on a technicality, Julian tries to restore his good name and that of his deceased father--an immigrant whose reputation was tarnished during the decades-old investigation. Julian also tries to find his footing back in the free world, while struggling with his prison-survival mentality. At the same time, Francis is facing his own weaknesses as a cop and a human being, as symbolized through the deterioration of his eye sight. Even as he tries to hide his handicap from his wife and his new partner on the Job, Francis is confronted with a new murder investigation that points fingers once again at the recently-released Julian.
Aside from the completely believable characters that Blauner creates in this story, the most amazing accomplishment is the empathy he stirs in the reader for both Julian and Francis. Neither man is perfect. Both make horrible mistakes. Both are subject to poor decision-making. And yet, both are so human and normal and real, that we are caught up in their internal and external conflicts. These conflicts are intensified by a satisfying mystery plot that leaves things unfinished till the final thirty pages.
This is not squeaky clean fiction, with tidy answers, and diatribes on forgiveness. Despite this--or perhaps, because of it--"Slipping into Darkness" manages to pack a powerful punch, showing the results of bitterness, stubborness, and potential redemption. Blauner has stormed onto my fictional radar. And I'm sure he'll be there for a long time.