Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lust, Murder, Obsession, & the Pigskin

Dark Horse (Jim Knighthorse Series #1)After listening--with an enthusiastic (could’ve been glazed) look on my face--to the first (well, probably two-hundred-thirty-ninth) person in my life as he/she proceeded to enlighten (actually, annoy-the-crap-out-of) me about the hilarity (hello--inanity) of the Three Stooges, I made a solemn vow to stop being so politic about the whole subject, and say what I really feel from the get-go in such situations (namely, that you’d have to hogtie me to a chair to get me to watch anything so mind-numbingly irritating).
All of which has what to do with anything? Well, a couple of things, actually. First, you’ve been warned about the Stooges and me, okay? And second, I’m trying to illustrate just how subjective humor really is; what one person--or even millions of them--find funny, won’t be the same for everyone. (Really, if you love the Stooges, that’s fine. Just please don’t drag me into it, ‘kay?)
What I like best is clever, witty banter, dialogue that preferably comes with a little “bite”; the off-the-cuff wisecracks from the smart alecks in the world (with an emphasis on “wise” and “smart”, there), and the dry, one-eyebrow-raised comments are right up my alley. Unfortunately, that kind of humor isn’t as easy to write as is broad slapstick, so when someone does nail it, it makes a big impression.
The newest addition to my short list of smart, belly-laugh-out-loud authors? The still-predominantly-self-published J.R. Rain. Chances are, you haven’t heard of him... yet. I hope that’s about to change, though, because this guy is that good.
In Dark Horse, Rain introduces us to private detective Jim Knighthorse, an ex-jock who was just one badly-broken leg away from an extremely promising career in the NFL. Instead, after that dream was dashed, he was forced to go for the considerably-less desirable Plan B... following his father’s footsteps into the p.i. business. 
Disappointment over what might’ve been has eaten at Jim for the past seven years, though, and when we meet him, he’s contemplating trying out for the San Diego Chargers. Yes, his leg still kills him... especially when he works it too hard. Or when he runs. Or when it rains. Pretty much all of the time, actually. But, everyone knows the world of pro sports is all about pushing past the pain, so he’s determined to make the team (or die trying out).
Meanwhile, his latest case is one he couldn’t say no to. Derrick Booker, a promising high school football player--much like Jim, himself so many years ago--has just been accused of murdering his girlfriend. The police case seems like a slam-dunk; no one can back up Derrick’s alibi, and the murder weapon was found in his car. Even worse, no one is interested in looking for alternatives; Derrick is one of only a handful of black students at his exclusive Orange County high school, and blaming the murder of the pretty white girl on him is such a “tidy” solution. 
Jim initially agrees to look into the case because of a natural curiosity about the young football star, now sitting in jail. After meeting with him, though, Jim latches onto the case with a fervor, because he believes that Derrick really is innocent... and the thought of the kid being tried as an adult, for a crime he didn’t commit, is more than Jim can stomach. 
Before long, Jim has a list of suspicious persons connected to the case, including a fellow student the dead girl refused to go out with (preferring Derrick, her true love); her own father (a scary man with violent tendencies); and her former band director (a movie-star handsome fellow who seems overly-fond of his female students). Helping Jim in his investigations are his best friend, now an officer with the LAPD; the dead girl’s sister, who has a unique perspective on events; an immigrant janitor at the school, who speaks little English and blends into the woodwork (as far as most people are concerned); and the school’s vice-principal, an attractive woman who slowly warms to Jim’s undeniable (especially to him) charms.
Obviously Jim has a life outside of work, too, and that life has plenty of problems. He’s crazy about his girlfriend (who, in a cool twist, is a descendant of Charles Darwin), but not sure just what’s happening between them. His relationship with his father is strained, at best, and doesn’t improve any when the old man dumps a major surprise in Jim’s lap, a piece of ancient history. And, of course, there’s that whole Chargers/NFL-career thing to think about (including his bum leg, which isn’t remotely happy about being put through the grueling training sessions).
There’s also a professional killer on Jim’s back, leaving increasingly-persuasive threats to back off the case. (Having bullets fired at you does tend to make you question your present course...)
Last but not least, there’s the bum named Jack--who may or may not be The Big Guy Upstairs, manifested down here on Earth in a less-than-godly form), with whom Jim occasionally shares coffee and philosophical conversation at a local McDonald’s. (Yes, seriously. No, don’t ask. Just read it.)
Throughout, Jim is one funny guy, with some absolutely hilarious comebacks. He’s always very tongue-in-cheek, but most especially when soliciting compliments about his own handsome, virile self. (No, he isn’t obnoxious; I said “tongue-in-cheek”, okay?) He and his cop-buddy have the ease of long-time friends, and they’re very funny together. And, since the story is told in the first-person, we get to enjoy Jim’s unspoken-but-equally-humorous thoughts, too. It’s all great fun.
Dark Horse is a quick read; at only 287kb--which I’m just guessing is somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 pages--the story moves along briskly, without a lot of extraneous filler or distractions, yet is long enough to solve the mystery (which is actually a rather good one), and to tell a complete story really, really well. 
There’s only one thing to note, which may pose a problem for some people: currently, Dark Horse is only available in digital format. (I have it on Kindle; I don’t know whether or not other e-readers can load it.) If you have a Kindle (or use the Kindle app on another gadget or on your computer), the story is well worth the very low price Amazon is charging for it. And, since Rain has several other digital books out now--with a couple of them available in print version, too--there’s plenty more belly-laughs, giggles, and smirks in store. I’m already grinning. :D

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4.5 mousies!

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