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The Drifter Detective (Volume 1) Paperback – February 10, 2015
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"Drifter" is the first in a series of stories featuring Jack Laramie, a World War II vet trying to make a living as a P.I. in the backwoods of Texas. His cases are the typical P.I. grunt work, trying to catch cheating spouses and crooked employees, while trying to stay away from anyone powerful enough to give him big trouble, either within or outside of the law.
However, when car trouble forces Laramie to stay a couple of days in one small town, he winds up with a most unusual client, the local sheriff, who wants him to keep tabs on a rancher whom the sheriff says is running moonshine across state lines. The pay is good, and the surveillance is easy, so Laramie settles in for what he thinks will be a routine few days work leading to a nice payout.
Naturally, there's more to the story than that, and several people in the story are not who they first appear to be. In fact, the plot of "Drifter" is somewhat more complex than readers might expect in this type of story (including a clever twist at the end), especially considering the relatively short length of the book. And, of course, no P.I. story would feel complete without the obligatory gorgeous dame, in this case, two dames, one of them the not-all-that-devoted wife of the rancher.
Laramie himself is a somewhat unusual detective hero. He's plenty tough enough, but he also has surprisingly refined tastes, carrying a chessboard and a portable record player with some jazz albums as part of his relatively meager belongings. He also tosses out an occasional quip, but doesn't overdo it. In fact, the best line in the story is the final punch line, delivered by another character. Author Elliott's descriptions of people and places are spot on accurate but not overblown; he wants to recreate the actual feel of a dusty 40s Texas town, not parody it as most period homages wind up doing.
"Drifter Detective" is simple, straightforward, meat-and-potatoes storytelling without engaging in discussion of any larger issues. Readers certainly don't get to know everything about Laramie in the story, and the story teases with a few bits and pieces about his character that presumably will be fleshed out in subsequent stories. Although obviously intended as the introduction to a series, "Drifter" holds up pretty well as a standalone story. This story will not be to every reader's tastes, or even to every mystery fan's tastes, but for those who enjoy the hardboiled heroes of the era, it will seem like a long lost relative come to pay a visit.
This prose is easy to read and flows quite well. It feels dark and despondent and definitely country noir-ish.
This is a lean novelette of pure story telling and a fantastic introduction to a new generation of Laramie. I look forward to more Jack Laramie beats from Beat to a Pulp Books and writer Garnett Elliott.
Give a go and enjoy! Joe