A modern mystery but spectacularly reminiscent of early crime and detective thrillers and film noir of the 40s and early 50s.
Sam Goss had been living a traditional life, a college grad, a girl who liked him and liked to cook, and an excellent job with an LA marketing firm, writing ad copy until suddenly he.just.couldn’t.anymore. He felt he needed more, so he quit the job and the girlfriend, eventually ending up sharing an apartment with Nick in Glendale and trying to make it as a writer.
His life mostly revolved around The Damned Lovely, a dive bar owned and bartended by Jiles, a retired cop who rented him a stuffy, dim, windowless box of an office space located in the back of the building. Sam looked up to and respected Jiles in place of his father, who disapproved of his career move. But things were not going great. He was existing month to month as an Uber driver, and he knew he was drinking way too much. However, a small glimmer of light was starting to shine in his life. There was a recent addition to the regular patrons of The Damned Lovely, a beauty in a black fedora who sat at the bar reading a book and sipping her Negroni, not engaging in any conversation other than to order her drink.
Sam was smitten and, as yet, had not gotten up the nerve to approach the young woman. However, when a man at the bar began to hassle her one night, Sam stepped in to stop him, ready for a fight. Unfortunately, when he regained consciousness later in his office, she was gone, leaving behind the bloodied denim shirt she’d used to cushion his head when he’d been laid out on the bar floor. Sam never saw her again…alive.
The Damned Lovely was a genuine page-turner of a book that kept me reading late to get to a good stopping point. The problem for me was the story was so good, with Sam’s ongoing investigation and constant drama, there just wasn’t one. I always wanted to see what was going to happen next.
Sam is a good guy, but he’s worked himself into a hole. His literary agent is a harpy, his roommate is an inconvenient convenience rather than a friend, and his friends are a bunch of barflies with their own troubles. I loved the collection of personalities and stories the author has conceived for The Damned Lovely’s regulars. Everyone has a story. The author has a knack for dialogue and a talent for putting the reader in the story.
The bar itself also has a personality, as does Goss’s Glendale. The moody descriptions set a tone and paint a vivid backdrop for the book’s action and events. I could clearly envision the bar, Goss’s home away from home.
But the plot is what kept me in my seat, or rather on the edge of it. The police investigation goes in a different direction than Sam’s, with twists and turns to follow and some entirely believable red herrings. The clues to uncovering the truth behind the murder are right there, one by one.
With the main character’s alcohol-infused decision-making and struggles, gritty action, sudden violence, moody setting, and overall feeling of impending doom, this modern mystery is spectacularly reminiscent of early crime and detective thrillers and movies. I recommend THE DAMNED LOVELY to readers of mystery fiction, especially those that enjoy the film noir genre of the 40s and early 50s.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.