Quick: When was the last time you found yourself rooting for the bad guy? It's hard not to do just that in this book, a Finalist for the 2015 Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. Novel. I received a review copy at no cost from Netgalley, and it hooked me by the end of the first chapter and didn't let go till the end.
Finn Harding is a former private investigator who lost his license when he crossed a bit too far over the ethics line to suit the powers-that-be. He still plies his trade, but under the table; he's skilled at finding people who go to great lengths not to be found ("sort of like Death's GPS," as he puts it). Early on, it's clear that he won't hesitate to overlook ethics again if the money is right. But with an ex-wife with whom he shares custody of a young daughter and an aging but still feisty father, he's got a bit of a soft side that, when it kicks in, renders him vulnerable. His ability to shift easily from loving father to the dark side brought to my mind a line from from an old movie, book or TV show (so long ago I don't remember which), when someone described a gangster as having no heart. "Sure I've got one," came the retort. "It's right behind my shoulder holster."
Finn lives under the radar on a boat on the Ohio River in Cincinnati (I grew up not far from the Buckeye State's Queen City, so that added another bit of interest for me). He's also got a sense of humor that made me smile now and again, reminding me, at least at first, of another very likable crook - bookstore owner and professional thief Bernie Rhodenbarr of the Burgler Who series by Lawrence Block.
Here, Finn takes on a shady client who's keen on learning who's blackmailing him and is willing to pay top dollar to find out. Finn is successful and the client is pleased; normally, that's a good thing, but now the happy client dangles more cash for even more unsavory work. Finn agrees, and things turn deadly serious as he finds himself facing a possible future either rotting alive in jail or dead in the ground. The nonstop action moves from Ohio to a remote spot in Maine and back, ending with a major cliffhanger, presumably leading to a follow-up book (in fact, the author says just that in the acknowledgements it will be titled Scar Tissue. I'm looking forward to it!
The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, August 2014); 298 pp.