Title: Cheap as Beasts
Author: Jon Wilson
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Pages/Word Count: 240 Pages
At a Glance: A recommendable read for lovers of classic murder mystery.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Like most soldiers, Declan Colette lost his fair share in the war—in his case a sailor, drowned off Iwo Jima. Since then he’s been scratching out a living as a cut-rate PI, drinking too much, and flirting with danger. Then a girl arranges to consult him, only to be murdered en route, and the cops tag Colette as their prime suspect. To save his neck he’ll need to find the real killer, a quest that pits him against a rival detective firm, a dangerously rich family, and a desperate foe whose murdering ways started back during the war.
Could this be the case he’s been waiting for? Catching the killer could make his reputation. Failing, could cost him his life.
Either way: win-win.
Review: Having so recently binge-read Joseph Hansen’s iconic Dave Brandstetter collection, I’ve been on the lookout for more of the same and seem to have discovered yet another interesting mystery series—or at least the start of one—by author Jon Wilson.
More standard noir than I might say the Brandstetter series is, with Cheap as Beasts Wilson has gone the way of the seminal hardboiled 40s gumshoe archetype, and made a bit of a mystery of Declan Colette himself. We do get the opportunity to learn a few things about him—namely, he’s not out to win friends or influence people, sometimes at risk to his person. Collette doesn’t seem to care much about whose buttons he pushes, whether inside the law or out. He’s a hard drinking, chain smoking, tough talking PI, not perfect, by any means, and his wise-cracking, antagonistic demeanor often finds him trouble in one form or another, though he proves throughout the narrative he has a detective’s eye for detail and the tenacity to see a case through to the bitter end.
Told in the first person, as most noir is, the author establishes the reader’s intimacy with the character and his story from the outset. The occasional second person address directed toward readers then adds yet another layer to that familiarity and engages us as we become better acquainted with our protagonist. The requisite femme fatales and bevy of suspects are introduced as we learn details along with Collette about not one but three murders which revolve around one wealthy family—the young widow, the children, cousins, and, of course, those in their employ; all come under suspicion in the beginning, the investigation complicated further when certain pieces of evidence disappear. That, coupled with more than a few red herrings, keeps things interesting from beginning to end, though I felt the motive for the first murder could have been more clearly defined.
As an aside to the mystery, reader’s are offered a mere glimpse of the personal side of Declan Collette, a World War II veteran who suffered his share of loss. Though we only get the barest hint of the emotional scars it left behind, it isn’t particularly difficult to piece together those clues and come to the right conclusion. The attraction he feels for Morgan O’Malley, he of the wealthy family, is tempered by the grief that causes Collette to keep Morgan at a respectable and business like distance, even though the attraction is entirely mutual. Collette does his level best to be off-putting and succeeds admirably, and though any potential ties between the two men seem to be severed by novel’s end, as the saying goes, it ain’t over till it’s over, so perhaps Book Two will be more enlightening on a personal front.
Though not as dark and nuanced as Hansen’s seminal noir series, Wilson’s crisp prose and engaging characters make Cheap as Beasts a recommendable read for lovers of classic murder mystery.
You can buy Cheap as Beasts here: