Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Shake Down - Joel Goldman's WyCo Thriller

A while back, I received a free review copy of Shake Down, and I put off reading it until I had airplane time. Joel Goldman is a local lawyer, and this book is his 5th thriller. It's set in the greater Kansas City area, with most of the action taking place in the Argentine area.

The first mystery presented is the title. Is it "Shakedown" or "Shake Down"? The author's website and various reviews present it as a single word, while my copy has the compound word broken in half on the cover and spine. Like an empiricist detective, I'm sticking with what I see and using the two word approach.

Shake Down is kind of a fun read. It starts off with a multiple murder, and you know right off the bat who did it, but the mystery arises around the edges. Who fled the scene? Why is the central character suffering from episodes of shaking? Why does the voice switch from omniscient narrator to first person? Isn't it kind of condescending for the author to write about residents of Quindaro like specimens in a petri dish of poverty? Why would an editor allow hilariously stilted dialog to appear in an apparently serious book?

Alright, some of those aren't intended to be the mysteries presented, but they certainly arose in my mind upon reading the book . . .

How does one properly review a shameful pleasure?

Let me be positive - it was fun. I enjoyed reading about some of the nooks and crannies of Kansas City, and the portrayal of the law enforcement turf battles was interesting. The central character was a regular guy who we're supposed to believe is smart enough to track down criminals, but not smart enough to keep his wife from meeting his girlfriend. If you're interested in Kansas City, and enjoy mysteries, this book is a must-read.

But, sadly, that's about all the positivity I can muster here. Without spoilers, I can only point out that the web of relationships that lies at the heart of the story is both transparent and unconvincing. Several of the plot turns are just goofy, such as the near-tragic decision on who will confront the murderer. And the resolution of the book is as wishy-washy as you can get with dead bodies spread all over the place. You never get a real explanation for the shaking condition which is so central to the entire book, and the central character's romantic quandary remains unresolved.

But, those points aside, the real criticism of the book springs from the dialog. I annoyed my seatmate on the flight with several involuntary gasps and whoops of disbelief. Taken at random from the middle of the book:
"What do you want me to tell Troy?"
"Tell him the truth. Tell him that I asked you to help me and that, as far as you knew, I was acting in the course and scope of my official duties."
"You call that the truth?"
"I call that enough of the truth. You helped me out. I'll take the heat."
That's just a small sample of the tough guy, clipped language served up throughout the novel. If I were cruel, I would have hunted up some of the dialog between the main character and his middle-aged fantasy girlfriend. It's kind of like taking Guy Noir from Prairie Home Companion and plopping him into an eHarmony commercial.

I've struggled with writing this review. Really, this book is awful - execrable dialog with an implausible plot, and minority characters who are so shallow I would accuse the author of racism if he had demonstrated he could write believable characters of any ethnicity.

But, despite all that, I enjoyed reading the book. And, when you're talking about a mystery/thriller set in your hometown, that's probably enough. I had a few laughs, it kept the pages turning, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for fun airplane or beach reading.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Gregg said...

I'll have to check it out - thanks for the review!

Plus, the cover blurb from Michael Connelly speaks highly of it.

8/26/2008 9:09 AM  

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