The Taking of Libbie, SD, David Housewright, Minotaur, $24.99.
David Housewright is flat out one of my favorite writers. Unfortunately, he's a hard sell because his first few titles are unavailable, and the latter couple are only available in hardback (as my husband pointed out, for the library market). But if you enjoy P.I. novels at all it's almost criminal to miss this terrific series. While there are recurring characters, it doesn't matter too much to pick the series up with any of the books. All you really need to know is that ex-cop, now financially independent (read wealthy) Rushmore "Mac" McKenzie does "favors" for people. He wants to feel useful, so when he perceives a wrong, he attempts to right it. In this outing—Housewright is a master at grabbing the reader's attention from the first page—Mac is kidnapped, thrown into a car trunk, and driven to Libbie, South Dakota. He lives in St. Paul, so it's a long ride, 600 miles or so.
Why has he been tasered and kidnapped? Why is he thrown into the trunk of a car by bounty hunters called (no kidding) Lord and Master and deposited at the Libbie police station? The answer is the meat of the story. It turns out that there was another Rushmore McKenzie (obviously a fake) who defrauded the entire town of Libbie by promising to develop an outlet mall there. The city council and the mayor are pretty desperate as the town ponied up some matching funds and the town is on the verge of bankruptcy, something that's about to come to light.
As Mac sorts through the mess—and he's pretty angry, understandably so—he still sees a wrong that needs righting and after checking in back in St. Paul with his girlfriend and his pals at the FBI and on the St. Paul police force, he's headed back to Libbie under his own steam, to find out the secrets of the man he now refers to as "The Imposter." This book bears a passing resemblance to Hammett's classic, Red Harvest, in that a stranger comes into town to root out corruption and he's followed by a wake of violence. While the dead bodies in this book don't begin to add up to the number of them in Red Harvest it still has the wild west feel of that book. One of my favorite parts literally takes place on the "American Desert" or on the actual miles and miles of uninhabited prairie land that grace the upper midwest. One thing that's addressed here is the migration of almost everyone away from small towns to cities, and the fact that the prairie is waiting to reclaim the west.
But while Housewright may have poetry in him, he's primarily a storyteller, and a top notch one at that. The assemblage of characters, good, bad and in between, are all vividly drawn. The story is rocket powered; and while the bad guy in town may be obvious, the story around him is not, nor are the people around him. Housewright may be concise, but he's also nuanced. I can't recommend his books highly enough. Even if you aren't a giant fan of P.I. novels, almost all readers are suckers for a good story, and Housewright always delivers.
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