Friday, October 16, 2009

The Midnight Room by Ed Gorman (dark suspense)

Detective Steve Scanlon's life is out of control. Married with kids, he also has an expensive mistress — or thinks he does. Actually, ever since Nicole found out he was married, she'd rather he left her alone, that he's stop buying her expensive gifts in a desperate attempt to re-win her affections.

Steve doesn't give up easily, but he needs more money. He's been neglecting his family, his wife and kids, his brother Michael (also a cop), and their father in the nursing home, leaving Michael to continually make up stories to cover for him more than Michael wants or their father believes.

But Steve had a solution to all his problems. He originally meant only to rob Dr. Peter Olson, but now he knows what the doctor has been up to: kidnapping local girls and torturing them to death in his basement dungeon. Steve found in Olson's safe the DVDs the doctor made of his last two captives, and Olson will pay to keep them secret. It is therefore in Scanlon's best interest that Dr. Olson is not discovered for his latest victim — a recently missing girl named Cindy Baines.

The police have stepped up the investigation since the last victim's skull arrived in her mother's mailbox. Luckily, Scanlon is the investigating officer on the case along with his partner, Kim Edwards — who, not coincidentally, Dr. Olson has just begun dating. And that's just the beginning of author Ed Gorman's The Midnight Room, a dark ride that isn't even over when the main story has played out. There's more to come, and it's even more shocking.

Ed Gorman is one of the great dark suspense novelists working today, and The Midnight Room is his best work yet. Its pieces are assembled bit by bit, and it takes a while for the reader to figure out what exactly is going on. (The strangely misleading blurb on the back cover — which seems to be advertising the book as a horror novel — goes a long way toward clouding the waters.) But Gorman always plays fair and is only keeping back some information for greater effect in later pages.

The Midnight Room is a wholly modern novel, but its roots lie in the Gold Medal novels of the 1950s and '60s. Gorman's influences are right there on the page. His skill at plotting is highly reminiscent of John D. MacDonald's standalone (that is, non–Travis McGee) novels. But his deft control of a multitude of major characters shows the marked influence of John Farris, particularly the author's intriguingly complex Harrison High. (Though Farris also wrote a handful of Gold Medals himself under the name Steve Brackeen.)

Gorman himself has called The Midnight Room his own "Gold Medal novel" and dedicates it to four "old friends who were masters of the form": Peter Rabe, Stephen Marlowe, William Campbell Gault, and Robert Colby. I think they would be proud to be connected to this book. It is the culmination of a life-long love of hardboiled crime novels and is a worthy addition to their ranks.


Paul D Brazill said...

Sounds great. I've never read anything by Mr Gorman. I've clearly been mising out.

KentAllard said...

You never go wrong with Ed Gorman.

Craig Clarke said...

Indeed. Ed Gorman is highly dependable, in any genre.

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