Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Flat Spin, by David Freed (hardcover, $29)

This is a great debut novel. It has humor, technical stuff about flying airplanes that you didn't know you wanted to know, international intrigue, romance, good detection, fist fights, football talk (just a little), brisket on Monday nights, and just the right mixture of all of the above.

All ex-special ops agents don't automatically roam the country and buy new underwear, rather than wash the old ones, like Jack Reacher. Some of them return to civilian life and try to live better, different lives. Some of them become Buddhists, vegetarians (mostly), sober (mostly), and pacific (mostly), like Cordell Logan. Cordell tries to pay his bills on time and do no further harm. What happens, however, when harm comes looking for Cordell?

At the start of Flat Spin, Cordell is a flight instructor with a dwindling number of students -- i.e., from one to zero -- in Santa Bonita (à la Sue Grafton, a thinly disguised Santa Barbara), California. He owes money for his hangar space and is postponing maintenance on his plane, but he's all paid up to his sublimely Jewish landlady. (The colorful and hilarious Mrs. Schmulowitz is 80-something and jogs around in Lycra and Spandex. Oi vey!)

Cordell is on the verge of applying for work at any place that will take him. Taco Bell, here he comes! So, is this what has become of a highly trained, courageous, quick-thinking member of the legendary but secretive Alpha team? Yep.

The beauteous Savannah Echevarria, also known as the ex-Mrs. Logan, has come slumming. Her husband has been murdered. Cordell could give a rip. Arlo Echevarria was once his Alpha team mentor and friend, until he stole the beauteous Savannah from Cordell six years ago. Cordell sends Savannah packing. But Savannah's daddy packs a big wallop in the form of a fat wallet. For a fistful of dollars, Cordell finds himself talking to some L.A. detectives and describing what he and Arlo once did for their country, despite the secrecy agreement he signed (upon pain of imprisonment) and despite not ever having told Savannah the truth about what he did.

After Cordell lays it all out for the police and after they laugh him out of their sight, it becomes Cordell's problem to solve. He must put old grievances to rest -- or revisit them in excruciating detail -- to get his ex-father-in-law and ex-wife off his back.

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