I was thoroughly pleased when Dan Sawyer offered to send me a reviewer’s copy of And Then She Was Gone. I enjoy his writing style and I’m also a fan of detective stories, so I couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do with it. It also gave me something else to put on my iPhone to continue testing it as an e-reader. Yes, Dan’s publishing it as an e-book and selling it through Amazon and Smashwords. Add to that, for me as a publisher, it’s always exciting to see authors continuing to test the electronic publishing space as a first, rather than a last, resort.
So, onto the review. There’s a lot of “noir” in this. While I’m no expert on the genre, I’ve seen my share of takes on it both light hearted and traditional. It has all of the elements you might expect. Clarke Lantham is a private eye and the story is told in first person. He has a girl Friday and the story opens with an attractive woman walking into his office. It also has the sort of content that would be considered “lurid” enough for a twenty-first century audience. If all of this seems a bit too “on the nose”, for me at least it was ameliorated by a thoroughly modern take on these elements.
Lantham is a very fallible detective, prone to errors in judgment and very human, believable motives. He’s hardly the iron jawed detective I recall from my exposure to the genre. His office assistant, a grad student working through her interneship, kicks his butt as much as she helps him out. While a bit of sass might be expected from a P.I.’s secretary, Rachel’s hardly satisfied to stay in that role. Finally, the good looking, wealthy client you’d expect to see is interested in finding out what’s happened to her daughter. I can’t recall having seen a noir with an over-protective soccer mom as the P.I.’s client so that’s anohter nice twist on the genre.
Speaking of twists, the trail that the various clues Lantham uncovers leads him down a dark and convoluted path. From a bondage clubs and patrol cars to wealthy neighborhoods and universities, he covers the depth and breadth of San Francisco. I won’t give anymore away, save to say where it ends up isn’t anywhere near where I thought it would go. That’s actually something I’ve come to expect from Dan’s work.
So what’s to like? The thing about first person narratives is that you spend a lot of time in one person’s head. You don’t necessarily have to like that narrator, though that often helps, but they have to be interesting. There isn’t much to like about Lantham. He’s not exactly cuddly. He’s not afraid to lie, steal, or do (almost) anything to get the job done. When he gets roughed up, shot at, or otherwise abused I wasn’t really broken up about it. In fact those were some of the more fun bits of story. Still, Dan has a knack for taking a jerk like this and making him interesting enough for you to care about what he’s doing and what happens to him.
The other thing that really appealed to me about this book was its sense of realism. I get the sense from what I know of Dan that he’s a research junkie. Whether or not that’s the case, he’s very thorough. Upon finishing this story, I was left with a sense of what it feels like to be a detective in our modern age. Lantham’s use of technology, particularly hacking Facebook accounts, data mining, and the ubiquitous cellphone, appeals to a geek like me. He also takes advantage of (literally and figuratively) a number of experts. As much as I like detectives such as Sherlock Holmes, having a protagonist with a less than exhaustive knowledge of everything under the sun is good as well.
I only have a couple of gripes with this on the whole, one minor and one major. First, there’s a question of language. Dan does love his F-bomb. While cursing generally doesn’t bother me in fiction or in life, it can get distracting here. I suppose in this case it can be defended as realistic given the gritty nature of the tale in question, but it still seemed excessive. That’s the minor quibble though and for some, perhaps most, it might not be an issue at all.
The bigger problem I have, and I don’t want to give anything crucial away so I’ll be a little obtuse, is a matter of science that’s a large plot point. I’m no scientist and I’m not up on my research in this area. However, given how realistic the rest of the story seems, the tech in question strikes me as being more at home in the realm of science fiction. While it doesn’t hurt the story per se, it was jarring.
Is the story worth the price of admission? This e-book costs $3.20. In a market where authors/publishers/consumers are still trying to figure out what an electronic product is worth you see prices all over the place. You can get a lot of fiction for free and quite a bit for $.99. A lot of those examples are worth exactly what you’re asked to pay. I think in this case, if you aren’t a reader that’s bothered with the language, it’s a good investment. It’s a quick read and one that I think would bear up under multiple readings. I give it four out of five Maltese Falcons.