In the Eye by Robert Germaux: Barnes hunts for a missing woman in a solid PI novel

If you’d asked me last week, I’d have said that this was the third book featuring the private eye Jeremy Barnes. Apparently, it’s the second. I’d have insisted I read two others, however — but my archives, Amazon and Germaux’s website tell me I’m wrong. I’ve also read one of the two books he’s written about Pittsburgh Police Detective Daniel Hayes. With both series, you almost instantly feel like you’re returning to a beloved series that you’ve been reading for years. Already this week, we’ve seen the grittier side of Indie Crime fiction — but here’s another side, light, action-driven, character-oriented, dialogue-heavy. Or, to put it another way — fun.

I read another author last week complain that when his work is characterized as “light” it’s frequently taken as a criticism — so I want to stress that I don’t mean it that way at all. I mean it as a compliment — pleasant, quick, entertaining.

I’m getting off topic and this intro is now far too long — so I’ll shut up now and get on with talking about this particular Indie Crime novel.

In the EyeIn the Eye

by Robert Germaux
Series: Jeremy Barnes, #2

Kindle Edition, 272 pg.
2018
Read: July 12 – 13, 2019

           I hung my jacket on the brass coat rack in one corner of the loft, then sat at my desk for a few minutes going through the snail mail that had accumulated since my last time there. There were three checks for services rendered, all of them for background checks I’d run on job applicants for local business owners. The background checks hadn’t taken me very long, which was reflected in the fees I’d charged. Still, three checks in one day. Maybe I should hire an accountant. I glanced down at the checks again. They totaled a little over five-hundred dollars. Maybe hold off on that accountant thing awhile.

Pittsburgh PI, Jeremy Barnes (call him JB), is in the office this day to meet a prospective client. The love of her life is missing, and she assumes — insists it has to be — foul play. JB (like his mentor) doesn’t like missing persons work — it’s too easy for things to go very wrong. But something about this woman’s plight moves him to accept the case. It doesn’t take JB long to reach the same conclusion — she didn’t leave on her own, and she’s not coming back on her own either. As this is a lesbian couple in a pretty conservative small town, JB doesn’t expect a lot of police help (especially once he learns a little about the Chief) — there’s one officer who is doing everything he can, his hands are tied. It’s all up to JB.

JB, a former high school English teacher, is a pretty good character. He’s got the right balance of smarts, toughness and wise cracks to qualify as a PI protagonist. His girlfriend and friends are as charming and interesting as he is. Basically, they’re characters you want to read about. Either hanging out after work or on the job, they’re a lot of fun. I do think the criminals in this book — and those who think like them — are depicted shallowly, and are largely unfair stereotypes. Far too much time is devoted to JB taking cheap verbal shots at them (in the narration or to their face). But the rest of the characters — witnesses, other police officers, friends of the victim — are well done, and add to the story rather than slowing things down or detracting from the pacing.

A quick aside — I appreciated the way that JB’s girlfriend Laura asks about getting too absorbed with a missing persons case and his answer. I wanted to ask her question of JB myself (and a few other PIs, too). More than that, I really liked his answer.

Robert B. Parker’s shadow is a long one in contemporary American Detective Fiction, as I’m sure is news to no one. Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, Craig Johnson all are clearly influenced by Parker (even Jim Butcher’s work had RBP’s fingerprints all over it) — but few show their indebtedness to him as obviously as Robert Germaux. This is not a bad thing, this is just an observation. If you’re going to be standing on someone’s shoulders, might as well be the best. It was easy to see in Hard Court, but there are times in this book where I felt I was being hit over the head with it. If I was feeling uncharitable, I could describe this as a watered-down update of Looking for Rachel Wallace with a tiny bit of God Save the Child thrown in. But it’s a pleasant-enough read that I don’t want to be uncharitable — so I’ll just say that the novel wears its influences on its sleeve.

And it is pleasant to read, sometimes with crime fiction, it’s hard to remember that this is a hobby I pursue for pleasure. But with JB’s narration, it’s all about enjoying the ride. I wish more people could pull that off. In the Eye is firmly in the P.I. vein, but isn’t so hard-boiled that someone accustomed to reading cozies couldn’t slip right in. While it’s the second in the series, you don’t have to read them in order — you can (and I’d encourage you to) jump right in anywhere. This is a fun read with a cast of characters you want to spend time with — I’m willing to bet it’s re-readable, too. It inspired me to give the first JB book another read (not sure when I’ll find the time, but I want to).

For a fast, easy read that’s sure to please, In the Eye is just what the doctor ordered.

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3 Stars

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Hard Court by Robert Germaux

Hard Court by Robert Germaux Virtual Book Tour Banner

Hard CourtHard Court

by Robert Germaux
Series: Jeremy Barnes, #2


Kindle Edition, 253 pg.
Robert T. Germaux, 2016

Read: May 20 – 21, 2016

Miles Bradshaw was my first billionaire. I’ve worked for a few millionaires, a good many thousandaires and, occasionally, individuals with negative net worths. When law firms take on a client from the latter group, it’s called pro bono. When a one-man detective agency does it, it’s called not paying your bills. Since I like paying my bills, I try to keep the negative-net-worth clients to a minimum. Lately, it’s been a mixed bag. Most recently, a guy who owned a string of radio stations had hired me to find out who was sending threatening notes to one of his on-air personalities, and after that, a five-year-old neighbor of mine asked me to find Snowball, her lost kitten. I’d been successful in both endeavors. Ed Willoughby had given me a very big check, and Samantha Jane had given me a very big hug. Both the check and hug were appreciated, and both, in my estimation, constituted fair compensation for services rendered.

Whatever else I may end up saying about this book, get this: Germaux’s prose is as smooth as silk, jazz, a baby’s tush, a criminal in a Michael Jackson song, etc. I don’t know how many times while reading this I was tempted to check his list of published works again — he doesn’t write like someone with less than 10 books under his belt (with at least one exception — I’ll get to that in a minute).

Jeremy “JB” Barnes is an ex-English teacher turned P.I. — he’s tough, into yoga, and making wise cracks. He’s got a gorgeous girlfriend (I liked her a lot), an old buddy who’s a cop (a fun character), one that’s a computer expert (not stereotypical in anyway — phew!), and so on. He’s the whole package when it comes to P.I. characters — I soon felt like I’d been reading this series of books for a long time. He’s a little bit Spenser, a little bit Elvis Cole, and a heckuva lot of fun.

Miles Bradshaw, multi-billionaire tech-giant, is the owner of Pittsburgh’s new NBA team. He’s down to earth, brilliant, generous and completely dedicated to his team. Frankly, I’d love to have someone like him in my life (no, really — all down-to-earth, generous, multi-billionaires that read this should give me a call, we’ll do lunch or something — the Whoppers are on me.). He’s concerned because people involved with the team are being harassed — either by people stalking them, vandalizing their cars, or by screwing up electronic communications between suppliers and ticket holders. Miles is convinced that since the harassment is so varied in nature, it has to be coincidental.

But because this is a detective novel, naturally, there’s no way that these aren’t connected. What neither JB or Miles can figure out is how they’re connected. Before they figure that out, they discover that the silly harassment of the team is really something on the fringe of a large-scale criminal enterprise involving organized crime, computers and spoiler-y things. I appreciated the friendship that develops between Miles and JB, something you don’t see enough of in Detective Fiction (P.I.s rescuing clueless clients, teaching them life lessons? Dime a dozen. Two professionals bonding over mutual interests while letting each deal with their strengths? Practically unheard of.). There’s a subplot that has nothing to do with these stories, that basically delivers the message that JB’s lady love is a knockout and he’s not to be messed with.

I am so glad that when he gets to the nitty-gritty of computer crimes, Germaux doesn’t try to explain it in any kind of detail. JB just leaves his friends to it and goes off to do his thing. I’m tired of that kind of thing being explained like a technical manual, or with bad analogies while the tough-guy hero makes jokes about how he can’t understand them. Nope, we get plausible thumbnail explanations and trust that the experts know what they’re doing. Just like most of us do in real life.

There’s some violence (pretty mild, really), some sexuality (very mild, really), enough to let you know that this isn’t a YA novel, but not so terrible that you couldn’t recommend this to your mother. There’s nothing revolutionary to be found here — but Germaux doesn’t seem to be trying to do anything revolutionary. He’s writing a good, straightforward detective novel, and he does that well.

Okay, here’s my gripe: Germaux has clearly drunk deep at the well containing the advice about making sure you propel your readers to the next chapter with a plot development, cliffhanger or something else. Frequently, he does okay with that. But almost as frequently, what we end up getting is ham-handed and/or corny. You almost expect David Caruso to deliver some of his last paragraphs (no, not the cool NYPDBlue Caruso, but latter-season CSI: Miami Caruso).

I guess I have another one: the ending felt a little rushed. Not much though. Not enough to spend more time on. (making us even, I guess)

Both of these problems are easily overlooked and outweighed by the rest of the novel, and I have little doubt that in a few books (especially if they’re new Barnes books), Germaux will have figured out how to avoid both of these.

This book was a real pleasure to read — it felt like I was at least 4 books into a series. The relationships, the histories, the dialogue all felt like the kind of things that I’d been reading for years — I just hope this means I get to read more of them. Germaux knows what he’s going, and I heartily recommend them.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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4 Stars

Cover Reveal: Hard Court by Robert Germaux

Author Robert Germaux is releasing his third novel, Hard Court, on April 11, 2016, and we have the Cover Reveal here!

About Hard Court:

Miles Bradshaw, the dot-com billionaire owner of Pittsburgh’s first NBA franchise, hires private detective Jeremy Barnes to look into what appears to be a simple case of harassment of one of the team’s players. But when Jeremy (JB to his friends) begins his investigation, the case proves to be anything but simple, eventually involving a local businessman with suspected criminal ties, a major FBI task force, a computer geek in California and a mob boss in Erie.

Along the way, JB, who can quote Shakespeare as quickly and easily as he can land a solid left jab, uses his wits and his ever-present sense of humor to wend his way through a cast of characters who range from the ridiculously inept to the ruthlessly lethal.

As Hard Court unfolds, there are numerous surprises and plot twists, culminating in a dramatic confrontation that neither JB nor the reader could have predicted.

About Robert Germaux

Both my parents were readers. I’m talking stacks-of-books-on-their-nightstands readers. So it’s no surprise that at an early age, I, too, became an avid reader. Everything from sports books (especially baseball) to Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys to almost anything about distant and exotic places.

Although I’ve always enjoyed putting words on paper, the writer in me didn’t fully emerge until I retired after three decades of teaching high school English. I quickly wrote two books aimed at middle school readers, at which point my wife urged me to try a novel for adults. As is usually the case, Cynthia’s idea was a good one.

Over the next few years, I wrote several books about Pittsburgh private eye Jeremy Barnes. I took a brief hiatus from the detective genre to write Small Talk and The Backup Husband. Now I’m back and will be releasing my first Jeremy Barnes novel, Hard Court, on April 11.

In our spare time, Cynthia and I enjoy reading (of course), going to live theater productions, watching reruns of favorite TV shows such as “Sports Night” and “Gilmore Girls,” and traveling to some of those distant and exotic places I used to read about as a child. So far, we’ve been fortunate enough to walk in the sands of Waikiki, swim in the warm waters of the South Pacific and share a romantic dinner in Paris.

I love interacting with my readers and getting their input on my characters and stories. Please feel free to contact me via my website.


*Cover Reveal media prepared by Susan Barton, My Book Tour