Promising debut thriller in which an Austin homicide detective investigates a few too many murders.
A former actor, truck loader, ghostwriter, and playwright, author Simon here makes good on almost all the noir basics. He opens with the gruesome murder of a prostitute, the scene a portent of additional gore to follow (including some autopsy scenes delicate readers will detour). Onto the case comes Austin homicide detective Dan Reles. Reles fits the classic “wounded cop” template: his childhood scarred him; his wife just left him; his admired Austin Police Department partner was recently killed in a violent auto crash. And, as a Yankee Jew transplanted to Austin in the late 1980s, Reles is an outsider. All this turbulence has left him behaving so violently he’s up for department review. So when the prostitute’s torso turns up on a ravine, and her other body parts are delivered to prominent men in Austin, Reles jumps at the chance to redeem himself by finding the killer. Just as Reles gets going, a city bus hits and kills a young University of Texas student. Are the two deaths connected? Of course. Simon is not one to disappoint thriller aficionados. He speeds Reles through the case—and through a grimy, crack-ravaged Austin that Dubya and Laura surely didn’t promote. Simon brings it all in at 240 pages, at no loss to characterization (sharp), plotting (canny), or sense of place (palpable). The conclusion, though, disappoints. It’s overdone (the body count nearly levels the city); it’s telegraphed (shifty land deals are a noir canard); and, for some, perhaps, it’s too downbeat (pundits claim heroes are back in vogue—which means Brad Pitt, not Ben Stiller, will play Reles).
Sure to return, Simon and Reles are two to watch. Here’s hoping publishers don’t pump the page count of future installments.