Monday, March 28, 2011

Mystery Monday - BLACK SWAN by Chris Knopf

BLACK SWAN comes out in May, and I'm reviewing it now so you have a chance to read the first four books in the series before picking it up.

Sam Acquillo is a rarity in series fiction: the protagonist who starts out at rock bottom and stays interesting as he gets his life together. At this stage of his development, he is marooned on an unfriendly island off the tip of Long Island with his girlfriend, Amanda and dog, Eddie. Poor Sam. All he ever really wants to do is be left alone, but his senses of justice and chivalry once again see him embroiled in a dangerous mess. With more severe weather in the forecast, he is forced to seek shelter at the island's inn, the Black Swan, where the owner's daughter, Anika, is a lovely young thing with an eye for Sam. When Sam suspects that a suicide at the inn is the result of foul play, his nature does not permit him to walk away, despite the danger. Sam fears for Anika's safety, and for that of her computer genius brother, who appears to be the target of some very unsavory people.

In essence, this is a locked-room mystery, with the weather serving to keep the island relatively cut off from the mainland. The supporting characters keep secrets and tell lies, making for a mystery of satisfying complexity. This would be melodramatic if it weren't for Knopf's wicked sense of humor. He adds levity at just the right moments to alleviate the tension:

"I introduced her to Amanda, who complimented Anika on her leather choke collar. I'd lived among women long enough to know this was a peace ritual, an expressed hope for boundaries to be respected and good will shared among all. Anika responded with a demure glance toward the ground, a fondling of the observed object, and a suggestion that it would look far better on Amanda, given her long, slender neck. I wondered if I should now piss on the grass at Amanda's feet, anthropologically speaking" (pp. 35-6; uncorrected proof).

Sam is a complex fellow, a former boxer and former engineer who left corporate America for a quiet life by the water. His experience with solving complex problems, not to mention his right hook, have helped him get to the bottom of some thorny mysteries in the past. In the first book, he has hit rock bottom, but he is not indifferent. BLACK SWAN is the fifth book in the series. Sam has grown as a person, but Knopf has kept him complex and unpredictable. Sam is wittier than your usual hard-boiled detective, more competent than your usual amateur sleuth, and he sometimes lets his inner boxer get the better of him. He may know exactly what he ought to do, and then do the opposite. There are no ruts or predictable patterns in this series.

Knopf is equally at home describing the finer points of sailing in a storm, how to sabotage software, or the best self-defense moves in close quarters, and his clarity, wit, and precise language are the perfect backdrop for an engaging mystery. I highly recommend that you begin with THE LAST REFUGE.

FTC Source Disclosure: I received an ARE courtesy of The Permanent Press.

My review of THE LAST REFUGE


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