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P.I.

Trigger City, Sean Chercover, William Morrow, $23.95.

Trigger City by Sean Chercover

"Oh you know how it is dollface...another day, another gunfight. But if I don't save the world, who will?"

The mystery world was crying out for a new traditional P.I. writer, and it found just the guy in Sean Chercover, whose Chicago based first novel, Big City, Bad Blood has been warmly embraced by the mystery community (it's nominated for an Anthony and a Shamus award). Trigger City is the second outing for Chercover's Ray Dudgeon, and to my mind, a far stronger read than the first book. He's done what some (not all) talented authors are able to do with their second novel: streamline and focus a bit and the book is both sleeker and richer for his efforts. Ray is a truly classic P.I. — a loner with good contacts and a bad shoulder, his idea of dinner is beefaroni from the can and a couple percoset washed down with Mount Gay Rum. He's taken a job looking into the death of the only daughter of a retired military man; she's been shot by a co-worker who had apparently gone crazy and then killed himself. Of course there's more to the story.

Like any P.I. worth his salt, Ray soon feels a moral obligation not only to the dead girl's father, but to the widow of the killer, and of course to the dead girl herself. The plot seems simple, but like an onion, there are many, many layers of deception which Ray manages to unravel. It eventually involves a mercenary company, Hawk River, where the dead girl had worked and had left only a few months before her death. Hawk River bears a resemblance to a certain real company doing work in Iraq, and hopefully the corruption and evil Chercover imagines are limited to the pages of this novel, though it seems all too believable. Chercover doesn't share the cyncism of say, the Coen brothers, who go after the intelligence establishment in their latest movie, Burn After Reading; their film depicting cynicism and disaffection at every level of bureaucracy. At least in this book, there's one good guy. Chercover's Dudgeon maintains the moral indignation shared by P.I.s throughout decades of mystery fiction's hard boiled tough guys with a secret heart of gold. You'll share his indignation, too.

Ray is also trying to figure out how to let go of his ex-girlfriend Jill, who told him in the first book that she couldn't take his lifestyle, as well as the chance that he might be killed at any moment. Unfortunately, the way he's "letting go" is to have his trainee follow her new boyfriend around town. He's also sleeping in the dead woman's apartment most nights. Despite this outwardly freakish behavior, Chercover has created in Dudgeon a decent everyman character that as a reader I feel real affection for. If he's clueless about his chances at romance, I like him so much that I can't help but wince when he puts his heart on his sleeve.

Chercover has also crafted a smart, well put together, and fast moving narrative that will have you on the edge of your seat by the end of the book. He is very soon going to be able to take a place of equality at the big table shared by guys (and gals) like Spenser, V.I. Warshawski, Elvis Cole, and Amos Walker. And it's nice for those guys, as well as this reader, to add a new face to the mix.

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