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When Last Seen Alive (Aaron Gunner Mysteries) Hardcover – December 29, 1997
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From Library Journal
A young Los Angeles woman wants series star Aaron Gunner to locate her brother, who never returned from the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. Gunner soon finds himself tangling with black extremists and the FBI. Realistic and compelling.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Elroy Covington came a long way to disappear--all the way from the Million Man March in Washington to a run-down motel in Hollywood--but his sister, Yolanda McCreary, is convinced that even though LAPD Missing Persons has given up the search, Aaron Gunner can find Covington. Aaron, already busy trying to photograph L.A. city councilman Gil Everson with one of the limping prostitutes his wife Connie is convinced he favors, is none too eager to take on the case. Even so, he hands the snoop job off to aspiring teenaged photographer Sly Cribbs in order to look for Covington himself--and before you know it, somebody's tried to kill both Sly and Aaron and (talk about coincidence) steal crucial photos from both of them. Aaron's sure the councilman's beefy bodyguard could tell him all about the attack on the kid, but he thinks something still doesn't jibe, and he's right: The tug-of-war between the Eversons is more complicated than he can see. And the search for Covington leads Aaron (It's Not a Pretty Sight, 1996, etc.) into even deeper trouble with the Defenders of the Bloodline, a black-supremacist answer to the Ku Klux Klan bent on executing all the Uncle Toms the KKK might have missed on their last trip through town, and with a five-year-old newspaper scandal that won't stay dead. Ingenious but slapdash in the details, with Aaron continuing as one of the most maddeningly intuitive detectives since Nancy Drew. Start reading for the plot, and you'll stay, as usual, for the flavorsome African-American backgrounds. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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When Last Seen Alive is a great entry in the Los Angeles Noir Sleuth Genre. We get to ride shotgun as we follow the exploits of Aaron Gunner, an African-American PI as he tries to juggle demanding clients and a nosy, but well-meaning landlord. In this installment, Gunner is hired by a wealthy, but very ill-tempered wife to get pictures of her husband, a local politician of some statue, with his mistress. Although it sounds like a walk in the park to Gunner, he quickly learns otherwise when his client informs him, after he has produced the pics, that catching her husband en flagrante with his latest moll just doesn't cut it. If wanted to get paid, then he'd better produce the pics of the lusty politician with a specific woman, and do it fast, or the wife would see to it that Gunner would rue the day he got his PI's license. Not long after the wife storms out of his closet of an office, another woman arrives looking for Gunner to pick up the trail of a missing person's case long gone cold Although very reluctant at first to wade into this new case, Gunner is won over by the comely lady, and finds himself working two cases simultaneously.
Filled with twists and turns and a quite a few red herrings, When Last Seen Alive delivers on both the action and the suspense. Along the way, someone tries to kill Gunner as he searches for the missinng person, and Gunner gamely dispatches a cold-blooded nemesis from his past. Throw in a tango with a shadowy and mysterious group of domestic terrorists, a hair-raising and deadly stint as an FBI lure, and lots of criss-crossing of the San Fernando Valley, fight sequences and cool gun play, and you have a story that would give James Elroy a good run for his money.
I came across only two demerits with the story. First, the narrative was told in the third person. Good noir fiction can only be read and enjoyed in the first person. Second, all of the characters spoke in the proper English, even the hoodlums and denizens of Compton. The story would have been more readable and enjoyable if the dialects and local patois rang true. Other than that, Haywood presented good characterizations and a strong plot development that kept me turning the pages. Incidentally, I was totally taken aback- in a good way- with the ending to the fine story.
Next on my list is Mr. Gunner's most recent outing, Assume Nothing, which I plan on taking the day off work to read. Maybe I can get my sister, who is running buddies with Mr. Haywood, get him to sign a copy for me.
The Everson case is a snap until Aaron learns that a weird prenuptial agreement muddies what should have been lucid waters. The Covington case should also be relatively easy, but instead the trail is pure frozen tundra. Aaron begins to wonder if Covington has been offed by a black separatist group, "The Defenders of the Bloodline". The group expects Aaron to join them as part of the solution or die as part of the problem. If that is not enough pressure on the private investigator, his inquiries has brought Aaron to the attention of the FBI, who want to use him to bring about the end of the group. Trapped between a hard place (the Defenders) and a rock (the FBI), Aaron continues his tour into hell (also called LA) in trying to learn what happened to Covington.
WHEN LAST SEEN ALIVE is a great private detective story, starring the wonderful Aaron Gunner in his fifth mystery. The bomb story line is fast and hip and loaded with social insight without turning the star into a preacher (Garth Ennis does that well enough). Aaron is a top gun who is one of the leading sleuths on the market today. This reviewer strongly recommends all five of Gar Anthony Haywood's Gunner mysteries if readers want enjoyable detective stories that provide insight into living in South Central. California.
Looking for Elroy leads Gunner to Barber Jack Frerotte, a notorious razor blade wielding psychopath and then to the Defenders of the Bloodline, who are dedicated to ridding the African-American community of "Uncle Toms".
As always, Haywood is stronger on setting, character & dialogue than on the actual mechanics of the mystery. While he doesn't measure up to James Sallis or Walter Mosely, it's still a fun series.