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Otto Sicko by George W. Copeland

Otto Sicko

by George W. Copeland

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Copeland (Leverage, 2012) delivers a hard-boiled noir set along Texas’ Gulf Coast.

This second crime novel featuring private detective Hondo Ross brims with a grimy cast of characters. Otto Sicko, Hondo’s old Navy buddy who once saved his life, asks him to stop a crew that’s trafficking in child prostitutes in Galveston, Texas. Ross hesitates, but his concern for the kids and sense of obligation to Sicko prevails. Soon, he finds himself on Galveston’s skid row, facing down a pimp with a knife; later, a corrupt cop almost beats Ross to death. He also meets a potential girlfriend who tries to help, but just keeps getting in the way. The juvenile sex trade is just one aspect of a tangled plot involving Galveston waterfront property, the city’s chief of police and a wealthy local family. Ross is an engaging guide to the seamy beach community; like most hard-boiled heroes, he remains bitter and unsympathetic, while retaining a basic sense of right and wrong. Copeland’s clear, clipped style suits his character’s sarcasm: “The trick was knowing how things work, knowing what you could rely on, knowing yourself, that it’s fear catches up with you, it’s fear gets you hurt.” The novel’s classic little-guy-versus-corrupt-society plot is livened up with vivid secondary characters. The author also does a fine job with the book’s violence—never reveling in blood and guts but not shying away from it. At times, however, the plot seems a bit too complicated; the author keeps adding new wrinkles and minor characters that come and go, and readers may wish they had maps and flowcharts to keep the conspiracy straight. Ross also drops vaguely racist comments at times, and, at one point, the narrative distractingly launches into a discussion of “illegals.” Oddly, the novel’s violent climax comes just past the halfway point of the novel, and the second half loses steam as Ross cares for his not-quite-girlfriend in the hospital and puts together the final pieces of the puzzle.

A fine hard-boiled novel, despite a few missteps.