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Friday, April 1, 2016

Lesser Evils by Joe Flanagan

Europa, 416 pages, $18 

Lt. Bill Warren is a mess. His wife left him, his seven-year-old son, Mike, has been diagnosed with “the mental capacity of a three-year-old,” he’s lonely, his emotions come to a fast boil, and he is the temporary chief of the Barnstable, Massachusetts police force. Oh, and there’s a serial killer wandering around doing despicable things to young boys before killing them. Perhaps that’s enough to stop you from picking up “Lesser Evils,” but I hope not. This book is a mighty good read on many different levels.

To add to Warren’s woes, the state troopers have been brought in to deal with the murders. Captain Dale Stasiak is a whole stinking lot of bully. Although he’s a hero for having helped put down a notorious criminal mob in Boston, he’s an enigma and overpowering presence in the smaller communities of Cape Cod. He and his sneering gang of troopers play rough and feel no need to explain much.

When the murder cases are taken away from Warren, he fumes but then puts his attention to other suspicious goings-on in the area. The husband of a woman who works for the DuPonts (yes, those DuPonts) is missing. Soon the woman and her child are also missing. Warren sees faint traces of something bigger going on in the Cape area related to the missing people. Warren balances this investigation with a surreptitious continued involvement in the murders, a growing desperation about his son’s disabilities, and feelings of anger and isolation.

Elliott Yost, the district attorney for the Cape Islands, a weaselly character, believes that he has “lived with an uneasy sense that a great turmoil was under way in the world and that somewhere west of the canal its distant surging could be felt in the air.” This in fact informs the whole story; that uneasiness pervades the community, drags at Warren’s life, brings evil and sadness to many. It is up to Warren and a trusted detective on his force, Ed Jenkins, to put names and faces to the evil and rout it out.

Besides a great, shifting plot, Joe Flanagan’s writing often rises to a level above. For example, “Fugitive smells rose in the air and spoke a secret language he shared with them: The dregs of discarded bottles, sodden clothing, coniferous decay.” Flanagan’s story also takes unexpected turns and at this stage in my life, with hundreds of crime novels read, the unexpected is rare and welcome. “Lesser Evils” gets an MBTB star.

1 comment:

  1. Stunned. What an awesome read. I don't usually do cop/detective/suspense fictions, but Joe Flanagan has got me hooked with "Lesser Evils". Great characters brought to life and made familiar reminding of people of my past both altruistic and truly evil. Some evil beyond my imagination. Characters towards the end that almost brought a tear to my eye out of a realistic sense of solid goodness, or my yearning to see the nefarious evil doers punished or worse. Some characters you just find yourself truly hating. The plot starts out with a shocking entrance and then breaks into intriguing sub plots, but they all balance well and begin to slowly interrelate really well drawing the reader into the read. The flow is perfect with suspense rising and falling and then leaving the reader hungry to almost skip ahead but knowing the slight shift in scene in the next chapter will be just as tantalizing. Towards the later fourth of the book the plots grow closer in a crescendo that had me keep reading well into the early morning. I just couldn't put it down. The action, suspense and intensity kept me pushing, with my adrenaline pumping. There is some violent scenes but well placed and far from gratuitous and actually portraying what I would expect outside of Hollywood sensationalism. Some gun battles but with more misses than hits, usually wounding with few killed. Some hand-to-hand struggles that had me right there, but again with a very realistic tone (not that I've been in hand-to-hand fights to near death and wondering if I could survive one). I could feel the protagonist Lieutenant Warren's physical and emotional pains throughout the book. There is a detached macabre and sometimes ghastly tone at times almost placing the reader viewing the corpses discovered throughout the read with a detached nature of those who kill them or the detectives, coroner or mortician who deal with them. Mr. Flanagan portrays the area of Cape Cod and environs with great detail filling me with an intrigue to pull out a map and see these places in relation to each other. I am now inspired to make a road trip to see if any of these places are still around. What a great vision of post World War II Americana complete with visions of my own past. Old seedy motor courts, baby boom era housing communities, trashy bars and road houses and the sad hapless souls that frequent them. There are also intriguing portrayals of the natural environments around these places in vivid detail. What completely pushes this story to new heights is well timed reflections of the characters' intellectual, spiritual, moral, and philosophical struggles juxtaposed by some of life's hardest realities of drug/alcohol addictions; work place politics and double dealings, mental infirmaries, and unfair societal ostracism and abuse of the unwanted and timid. One is given a "life is cruel, hard, and unfair" tone throughout. The ending offers brilliant resolution. I cannot rave enough about this read. It is over 400 pages, but I didn't want it to end. Can't wait for a sequel. I would love to see it made into a movie along the lines of the gritty street level tension of "Taxi Driver" with De Niro (1976), or the internal struggles of a good guy Nicolas Cage faced with the evil Dennis Hopper in "Red Rock West" (1993) or the psychological twists and dark sexual tensions of Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper in the 1986 film "Blue Velvet".