For as often as I listen to it, I’m not much of a fan of Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, co-hosts of The Watch podcast. They both come off as smug and insufferable. But they have excellent taste in books, particularly crime fiction. Their suggestions have opened some new doors in a genre I thought I was familiar enough with. So they’re not THAT bad I guess; I just don’t listen to them talk about anything else besides books.
Anyway, Newton Thornburg is probably the most obscure writer they brought to my attention. I had never heard of him before perusing their Snitch Butlers tumblr. Thornburg’s books have been mostly out of print for awhile and he didn’t even seem to get second life from Black Lizard in the way many formerly forgotten greats had. I picked this one up on Kindle and let it sit until I needed to read a good LA tale.
It mostly satisfied. Is it a hidden gem? No but it’s a perfectly fine crime novel that centers around a guy unwittingly drawn into a murder/conspiracy. There’s a touch of Ross Thomas to this. Those are usually my thing and Thornburg does a good job with his perspective. I was intrigued by the mystery itself and how he lines the pieces up for the reader.
The book has several problems, the biggest is how it begins with several character perspectives, few of which feel fleshed out before they are discarded as the narrative dictates. Eventually, we’re just left with the main guy. It doesn’t work. Also, Thornburg is not great at building suspense. Moments that are supposed to be gripping left me with a feeling of mostly indifference, like they’re contrived to keep the story moving.
But it’s the main character’s relationship with a 16-year old girl that…yeah no. No. No explaining is gonna get me past that one.
It’s a good book that made me want to read more Newton Thornburg because it did entertain. Perhaps he should be known more but I don’t think we missed out on another Chandler here. Still, there’s something to be said for competent writing.