Musial (Break Shot, 2015) returns with another Max Deacon mystery in this novel of crime and pool.
Max works in a Chicago pool hall. The job isn’t glamorous and the clientele is a bit rough, but it allows him plenty of time to practice the game he loves. Max is preparing to enter an eight-ball tournament offering a cash prize and a spot on the national tour when the pool hall becomes the target of an unexpected series of attacks. Someone hurls a brick through the window, followed by a Molotov cocktail. Later, the owner, Dougie, is badly beaten and left to die in the doorway. With his boss in a coma, Max tries to get a grasp of the situation: “Either Dougie or the pool hall, or someone connected to it, was being targeted. I wanted to find out why.” His only clue is the name of Dougie’s girlfriend, Aaliyah, a woman whom everybody seems to know about except for Max. She’s got connections to a drug dealer on the South Side. Though Max is an Army veteran who knows how to handle himself in a fight, he’s cautioned not to be careless in his personal investigation of the case. Max will do anything for a friend, but as the attacks increase in severity, the situation may prove too much for even a shark like him to shoot his way out of. Max certainly fits the genre archetype, though his modern-day greaser ethos—the pool, the Mustang, the occasional Camel cigarette—and the sleazy Chicago setting provide just enough color to give him a distinctive, lived-in quality. His narrative voice strikes a nice balance between irreverence and world-weary sincerity, and Musial exercises restraint in keeping the dialogue more or less believable. The story is small but well-paced and compelling, and while readers end up right where they expect to, fans of the genre will likely relish this iteration. The world of pool (and the city of Chicago) may be one of the last areas of contemporary society where noirish tropes can be sustained without feeling contrived; Max probably has many adventures ahead of him.
An enjoyable Chicago detective story starring an eight-ball-playing protagonist.