Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Losers Live Longer by Russell Atwood (Hard Case Crime)

The follow-up to author Russell Atwood's debut novel (and cult favorite), East of A, was ten years in the writing. Originally titled Between C and D (making for a sort of A-B-C-D motif across the titles, which is cute), Losers Live Longer is also a sequel, featuring Atwood's private investigator Payton Sherwood and a beautifully unconventional horizontal cover painting by Robert McGinnis.

At 9:30 in the morning, the Thursday after Labor Day, private detective Payton Sherwood's buzzer sounds — a highly unexpected intrusion during a time of few clients. But it is a client ... sort of. Private eye extraordinaire George Rowell (called "Owl" by his friends and colleagues) wants Sherwood to follow a follower, a simple soft cover job.

But before Sherwood can get down to the street to discuss the job with the great detective, Rowell is killed, and Sherwood sets out to find the killer. However, nothing is ever so simple in New York City, and Sherwood gets deep into the dark side of the city and finds out more about human depravity than he ever wanted to know.

Losers Live Longer has an odd sort of protagonist: Sherwood seems to only be playing detective, more interested in spouting pop-culture references than in doing any real legwork. (Though any book that obliquely references The Electric Company and Sesame Street and directly name-checks Murder, My Sweet can't be all bad.)

I have a tendency to think this is a result of the author's putting too much of himself into the character (Atwood, Sherwood: it's not a big leap, and it reminds me of the Lawrence Block stories with characters called "Lenny Blake" and the like). This is generally a bad idea unless your plot is particularly strong, and the plot of Losers Live Longer is just OK. It also takes a while to get going. (As usual in this genre, things don't get really interesting until the ladies show up.)

Flaws in either plot or characterization can generally be overlooked, though, if they complement each other. Neither is strong enough to carry Losers Live Longer by itself, but they're just good enough together to make for a decent read, if not a particularly memorable one.

Atwood's website — conveniently titled — has an mp3 of the author reading the first chapter of Losers Live Longer, a pdf of the original short-story publication of "East of A" in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (where he was an editor for a time), and other interesting downloads for crime fiction fans (including a rare recording of Mickey Spillane reading a Mike Hammer story that chronologically precedes all the novels).

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