Death is no excuse to give up on a case

Down Solo - Earl Javorsky

I am reviewing this novel as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie Amber for organising this amazing team and to the author for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

Dead narrators are not unique. In some cases we know from the beginning (like in the film Sunset Boulevard, that I recommend if you haven’t watched it yet), in others we don’t find out until the very end (The Fifth Element. Sorry, it’s a big spoiler, but I imagine everybody has watched it by now). I have just read a book where the main characters were dead, or in an in-between state. But still, Charlie Miner, the protagonist of this novel, is no ghost and he does not live in a separate reality. No, he wakes up at the morgue with a bullet in his head and picks himself up, finds another body still wearing some clothes that he borrows (as luck would have it, a skinhead), and, as a good (well, let’s say professional) PI he sets off finding out what has happened to him.

I really like unreliable narrators. They are good to keep readers on their toes and bring very interesting perspectives to the narrative. The story doesn’t stray from Charlie’s first person point of view, but he has a few problems. He’s dead, and it’s difficult to know if his memory problems stem from being dead or from the damage the bullet has caused to his brain; he also had a serious drug habit (developed due to back pain following an accident that would not respond to run of the mill painkillers) and what effect that has had on his memory is open to question. Charlie realises, when trying to pierce things together, that he has big gaps in his memory and, what’s even worse, some of the memories he recalls seem to be incorrect. On the plus side, he soon discovers that death cures drug addiction. Readers share his puzzlement and his attempts at trying to work out what really happened, having to rely on partial information that might be misleading or incomplete.  

Charlie is a great narrator, despite (or because of) all those problems. Notwithstanding his situation, he wastes no time in feeling sorry for himself. He’s off to find out what happened. He’s sharp, witty, has a fabulous (if rather dark) sense of humour, and although he has his own sense of morality and of what’s right and wrong, he does not hesitate in using whatever means necessary to get to the truth, especially when his daughter is at risk. He is a friend of his friends, loves his daughter, has a keen sense of justice and, despite his flaws, he’s one of the good guys.

The case is a complex one, involving gold mines (that might or might not have gold in them), shady investment firms, preachers trying to save the world, experts killed for their troubles, hot wives prepared to do anything to get their hands on the money, trustworthy and friendly drug dealers, Mexican gangs, crazed adoptive sons and other complex family relationships, amphetamine labs… There are a number of deaths, explosions, crashes, arson attacks, kidnappings, road trips, visits to prison, and everything in between. There’s also an interesting taxi-driver, Daniel, who seems to have information about the biggest mystery in the book (how come Charlie is a completely unique model of the walking dead) but he keeps his cards very close to his chest. Despite the supernatural elements, once the readers move past the main premise of the book and accept it as Charlie does, they get swept by the adventures, complications, and dangers that pile up. You’re in for the ride and you enjoy it for all it’s worth. The ending… well, it’s open to interpretation.

The dynamic writing, and the quick pace suit the novel’s theme and characters perfectly, and turn it into a must read for people who love unusual thrillers and witty/quirky characters, with plenty of black humour thrown in. A word of warning, there’s swearing, violence, drug use and a bit of sex, so it’s not for the faint hearted. A fantastic read.