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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pocket-47: Old Memories Die Hard in the Sunshine State (review)

Florida is one of those places that most of us think we know... and, whether or not we’ve ever set foot across the state line is irrelevant. Maybe it’s the rampant commercialism (and ubiquitous black mouse ears) of Orlando, or Key West’s breezy, laid-back cool (set to the tune of every single Jimmy Buffett song ever written), or South Beach’s excesses (seriously, who hasn’t seen "Miami Vice"?), or those raucous Spring Break parties, or even some ‘gators (or Gators, depending on what floats your boat)... but whatever it is, we invariably picture something larger-than-life, outrageous, or just sort of odd when we think about the Sunshine State.
What we don't picture, though, are all the "normal" people, those with unglamorous jobs and boring lives just like the rest of us. (It makes me feel a bit sorry for all my wonderful Florida friends, actually.) But, in the soon-to-be-released Pocket-47,* author Jude Hardin actually does a nice job of combining the two “sides” of Florida; mixing (mostly-) regular Joes and Janes with enough of that trademark craziness and weirdness to satisfy anyone.
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Nicholas Colt used to have it all--fame, fortune, and a happy family--back when he was the lead guitarist in a popular rock group. Now a private investigator, he has chosen to live in a dinky, ramshackle camper in an off-the-beaten-path campground (a place with very little need for detecting, actually), rather than settling in a metro area where his skills would be more in demand (and thus, more lucrative).
But, he desperately needed that kind of change after a tragic accident twenty years ago left him the only surviving member of both the band and his family. So, now he fishes. He hangs out with the campground dog. He works, when the rare case comes along. He waits (and waits) for checks to arrive from the local lawyers who occasionally hire him, so he can pay the few bills which he’s constantly behind on. He hopes his old GMC Jimmy (“Jimmy”, of course) will keep running. He makes it through one day, then wakes up again to start the next.
Colt isn’t exactly thrilled when an attractive woman shows up on his doorstep out of the blue one day, looking to hire him. Still, his phone has just been shut off (again), so he begrudgingly agrees to listen to her story.
Leitha Ryan wants Nicholas to find Brittney, the much-younger sister of whom she’s now the legal guardian. There was an argument, it seems, after which the 15-year-old girl took off. Leitha is terrified of going to the police, for fear they might want to revoke custody. But, as a young nurse with plenty of bills of her own to pay, she can’t afford a fancy, top-dollar private eye. (Hence, her appearance on Colt’s decidedly-humble doorstep.)
Colt considers the job; how hard could it be? (Plus, he really doesn't want to wake up one day to find Jimmy being hauled away by the repo man.) He names a price, Leitha agrees, and just like that, he’s (at least temporarily) flush again. The case, he figures, should be wrapped up in a day or two.
Things don’t pan out as expected, though. Colt finds himself believing the (older) boyfriend, who--although an A-1 jerk--honestly doesn’t seem to know (or care) where the girl might be. Nor do her after-school tennis instructor or the foster parents Brittney had prior to Leitha. Colt doesn’t like this; young girls who run away because of little spats with their parental units don’t run very far, so he should have been able to find her by now. 
Colt is good at what he does, and after more digging and some surveillance (with the assistance of a lovable old codger with whom he likes to fish and drink beer), he succeeds in finding Brittney... only to discover that it isn’t quite Mission Accomplished; the girl is clearly terrified, convinced that someone wants to kill her. 
Doubtfully, he agrees to protect her for a few days while trying to figure out what to do next. As the pair gradually develop a tentative bond--he, getting a feel for what it would have been like to now have a young adult daughter of his own (had the horrible accident not taken her away from him so long ago), and she, for having a father figure for the first time--and he sees that she isn’t just another flighty teenage girl, Colt starts taking her fears more seriously. When they’re awakened early one morning by someone shooting up the camper--and Brittney disappears again--he finally understands that the threat was all-too real, too late.
From that point on, Colt is a man possessed, guilt and anger fueling his new purpose and drive. As he delves deeper and deeper into the tangled mess Brittney landed herself in, her chances look increasingly worse. Everywhere he turns, there’s more deception more danger... and another murder. (There are also more opportunities for Colt to get beaten up, robbed, and shot, as he stirs up a hornets' nest everywhere he goes.)
Eventually he gets to the bottom of everything (of course), but--just when we think Colt has it all resolved?Turns out that’s not quite the case... and from that point, the last third of the book gallops off in an unexpected direction. It’s all another part of Colt's long, grueling journey--the worst of which isn’t the physical trials and torture he endures, but rather, the mental and emotional anguish, as the awful past he’s been trying to put behind him is suddenly thrust front and center. If he can make it through this final trial by fire, he might be free at last of the ghosts which have haunted him for so long. If he can’t, though... well, there's not much chance he’ll make it, at all.
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Pocket-47 has all the makings early on of being another good (if somewhat-cliched) Florida suspense/mystery. (Every fictional private dick in the state always seems to favor Hawaiian shirts and shorts, enjoy fishing, have a ready supply of witty and/or snarky one-liners to be pulled out at a moment's notice, and is trying desperately to escape some big-bad in his past. Apparently, those are prerequisites for getting a P.I. license there, that’s all I can figure.) Hardin has a deft hand with dialogue, and he‘s written believable, interesting characters. The mutually-healing relationship between Colt and Brittney adds a nice emotional counterpoint to the violence. (Although most of it isn’t gruesome, there is a lot of brutality.) The story is genuinely suspenseful, too; it has "movie" written all over it... which, from an entertainment standpoint, isn’t a bad thing. 

For me, though, the most-interesting aspect is the surprising twist part-way through--with the last portion going in a direction I never saw coming--that makes this something a little different. 

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 3.5 out of 5 mousies

*Pocket-47 will be released on 5/2/2011.

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