by Brad Parks
Series: Carter Ross, #6
Hardcover, 342 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2015
Read: September 9, 2015
The ethical dilemma posited aside, I hated the first chapter. If I’d never read a Brad Parks book before, it might have caused me to move on to the next thing on my reading list. The cheap “in 43 hours, X, Y, and Z are going to happen…” ploy irritates me. Just get me invested with setting, plot, or character. Present one or all of these in an interesting manner and I’ll get invested. Don’t force the investment. Don’t jam it down my throat. Also, there was a perfect point 300 or so pages later that it would’ve fit.
Thankfully, Chapter 2 was much better, as was the rest of the book. This was the typical Parks mix of darkness and light, grim stories told with a light touch. A newspaper reporter trying to live up to the tradition of the great investigative journalists of the past in the midst of an industry that’s dying and doesn’t care about that tradition.
Carter seems to be off his game a little here, making a couple of blunders that seem out of character — but given that he spends the whole novel waiting for That Call from his pregnant girlfriend, it’s understandable. It also helps move the novel along nicely, so, it’s easier to swallow (especially while reading).
There’s a string of carjackings in Newark, and a couple have proved deadly. Naturally, the one that makes people pay attention is a well-off middle-aged white man. Carter just can’t write about him though, he seeks out another carjacking that resulted in a murder, this time of a less well-off black man. It doesn’t take long before Carter’s sure it was the same carjackers, and that there’s something else going on besides Grand Theft Auto.
There’s not much (beyond the strange relationship between Carter and Tina) that really seems to be the same from novel to novel in this series. The cases don’t overlap really, which is refreshing. Carter can’t rely on the same sources of information all the time — which doesn’t preclude some returning supporting characters, but also keeps things fresh on that front. The corner bodega shop owner in The Fraud was entertaining, and I hope we see him again down the line. Other characters here — friends and family of the victims, sources of information, and so on — were well-drawn and engaging as usual.
Easily one of the more entertaining aspects of the Carter Ross books are the interns — from savvy to naive, hapless to ruthlessly efficient, these characters make you fear for the state of journalism (or give you great hope). This books’ intern, Chillax, annoyed me greatly in the first couple of pages we spent with him. He clearly rubbed Carter the wrong way, too. Which did provide a grin or three. Case in point, we first meet him like this:
“Hey, what’s up, brah?”
I am unsure what youthful genius decided that the word “bro”–which is already an effective truncation of the word “brother” – – needed to be further morphed so it was pronounced like a woman’s undergarment. But it was my hope this linguistic pioneer developed some affliction that was similarly annoying. Like a permanent hangnail.
In the end, Chillax proved to be a little bit more than comic relief, but when we see past interns in this book, we see how little.
The comedic elements, as always, separate this from the pack, they season, but don’t overwhelm the mystery. There was one big joke moment (maybe two, actually) that any reader is going to see coming 5 miles off — but Parks is such a pro that even they work. The more elaborate of them (you’ll know when you read it) is cringe-worthy, totally expected and totally chuckle inducing. The Fletch joke was nice. This summer we’ve had jokes about the movie from Parks and Kuhn, one more and we’ve got a trend.
Parks threw a couple of curve balls that I whiffed on. There’s one shadowy figure that I had pegged to be character type X. Not only was he not X, Y or Z, he was more like D. I was that far off. I also did not see the ending coming (well, the solution to the criminals’ identities I saw because I knew more than Carter), but the rest? Didn’t expect that from a Carter Ross book.
There’s one thing that doesn’t make any sense to me, one character’s motivation and actions that made sense with one interpretation of the facts, are just irrational when looked at in the light of the way Carter finally puts the pieces together. The way that Parks wrapped up the action and provided glimpses into what happened with the major players didn’t allow for him to get into details about the red herrings he chased, but this one was big enough that an explanation would’ve helped.
Good characters, entertaining plot; actually, the mystery itself might be pretty weak, the more I think about it, but it was fun watching Carter figure it out, which is the point. The Fraud, solidifies the Carter Ross series as a reliable mystery series.