Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ben Sanders: The Fallen, a mystery

Author: Ben Sanders
Title: The Fallen
Mystery Type: Police Procedural
Detective: Sean Devereaux
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Time Period: Contemporary

I have to thank Craig Sisterson of Crime Watch Blog (see blog list at right) for introducing me to Ben Sanders. Crime Watch focuses on crime writers, mostly on NZ writers as to be expected, but he also includes interviews and news about crime writers from around the world. If you're not familiar with NZ crime writers, check out Crime Watch.

The Fallen is Sanders' first novel, and it's a strong one. I'm waiting for the second one now and hoping it will be available for us in the US. Unfortunately the book distribution system in the US is rather provincial and has yet to learn that there are great books out there that haven't been published in the US. Well, maybe some day it will change.

Sanders opens the novel with three chapters that appear to belong in separate books. Of course, we know that somewhere down the road, all three will mesh somehow, leaving Devereaux with really only one case, right?

Chapter One begins:

"Traverne came to slowly. Unconsciousness was a new experience, and the transition to reality was not pleasant.

His vision improved gradually; contrast returning as lines sharpened like stone etched with acid. Certainly that's how he felt, like he'd been bathed in something corrosive. Skin abraded, recollection stripped bare. His left knee ached, and when he tried to raise his hands to his face, he realized his wrists were secured at the small of his back.

He lifted his head off the carpet, and as he did there was a tacky, adhesive sound like masking tape peeling free, and from the rich coppery stench he inhaled he knew he must have been bleeding."

Traverne obviously is a captive of ??? Who is Traverne? Who knocked him out and tied him up? Why?

Chapter Two begins:

"Like any form of employment, detection has its downsides. Not that I'm complaining: criminal investigation is inherently recession-proof, so lack of activity is never an issue. It's the nature of the work that sometimes proves problematical. Homicide, in particular. Murder leaves a mental imprint that tends to linger. It keeps your innocence, ignorance and sense that all is right with the world firmly pinned down, and sends you home at the end of the day with creases in your brow.

Pollard called me at home about the Emma Fontaine case on a Saturday afternoon cast grey by fairly typical July weather. I was alone in the living room, stereo set to a discreet low. The window that gave onto the front lawn was open, and a chill breeze filled the curtains periodically, bringing with it the smell of recent showers.

'You're not allowed to call me on my day off,' I said, when I answered my cell.

'Sorry.' He didn't sound apologetic. 'What's that, The Verve?'

'Echo and the Bunnymen,' I said. 'Fools Like Us.'

Quiet on the line.

'Is this a social call?' I asked him.

'Purely business,' he replied. 'Someone found a body.' "

This is obviously the main plot line for the novel. A body has been found, and Devereaux is going to get the case.

Chapter Three begins:

"My house is a small, two-bedroom unit nestled beyond a rise east of Mission Bay, on the outskirts of the central city. . .

It was dark by the time I [Devereaux] turned into my driveway at a little after six. I parked beneath the branches of the Norfolk pine which serves as the centrepiece of my property, walked back along the driveway to check my mail, then went to unlock my front door, pausing only when I realized the woman next door was sitting in the front porch.

I halted, mid-step, surprised by her presence and the fact that she hadn't said anything. My security light blinked on and I feigned casual, using the search for my key as a distraction to avoid her gaze, speaking only when I was within a metre of her.

'Hi, Grace.'

She let the greeting hang a moment before responding. 'Hello, Sean. How are you?' "

As Grace is not the most forthcoming of people, it takes Devereaux awhile to find out what she wants.

" 'What is it I can help you with, Grace?' I asked

There was a pause. 'There's been a man watching me,' she answered quietly. 'And I'm terrified.' "

The three threads: a sixteen year-old-girl has been murdered; Traverne, whoever he is, is someone's prisoner; and Devereaux's neighbor is being stalked by someone. Are they related?

Devereaux is a police officer who feels that rules are only guidelines and sometimes one has to step outside those lines to a certain extent, but only to a certain extent. Fortunately for Devereaux, he has a good buddy who isn't a cop and who isn't constrained by the rules of correct police procedure.

His buddy is John Hale, an ex-cop, who now runs his own security service. Being a good friend of Sean, Hale is ready to help out, especially when Sean can't go any further beyond those guidelines. And he's a good buddy to have around, for, like Devereaux, Hale also spent time in Vietnam, except that there's no record of Hale's activities while he was there, if he really was there. There are certain situations when military records seem to conceal far more than they reveal, and Hale's record seems to be one of them. And another reason why Devereaux's lucky to have Hale around is that Devereaux's investigation appears to be pointing at some senior members of the police department.

Overall Rating: Very good-- so far it's the best first novel I've read in a long time: excellent plotting; a simple low-key writing style that pulls one along; an interesting and thoughtful main character; and a good buddy relationship that is one of the strengths of the novel. I'm looking forward to the second in the series.

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