I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Those who know me know that I’m a big fan of the Hard Case Crime label. I collect the novels and make a commitment to read at least one a month.
Publisher Charles Ardai has made a point to reach out extensively to the HCC fan community; passing out ARCs and bonus copies before they go on sale. A few months ago, some of us got an e-mail asking to review Five Decembers in advance to get the word out on the book.
While I like the HCC label, I don’t hold back from criticism if necessary. Look at the tag at my past reviews, you’ll find me calling out some duds. I’m not swapping access for a good review.
So here’s my review…
This is one of the best books Hard Case Crime has ever published.
I don’t know much about James Kestrel’s work but wow, the dude knows how to plot, plot and plot. For an HCC novel, this is a dense, layered epic that works well. Set before and during World War II in various parts of the Pacific Ocean, it takes the reader on a multi-year journey, successfully mixing the hardboiled nature of 40s and 50s crime novels with the epic feel of a war story. Driving its protagonist into the depths of war, it still never loses its crime novel heart.
I’d recommend going into this book knowing as little as possible because it takes a lot of twists and turns that feel organic. Every time I thought I had an idea of where the story was going to go, it juked me in a new and amazing way.
My only real complaint is that the protagonist, Joe McGrady, encounters multiple women in the story who could perhaps be written more effectively. With one exception, don’t want to spoil which one, the female characters, especially the AAPI ones, are overly sexualized. Again, I can’t say how without spoiling but I think the author could have done better in this regard.
Other than that, this is an excellent novel, one of the best crime stories I’ve read this year and unquestionably a great addition to the Hard Case Crime label.