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.
|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.