Jimmy "Soldier" Riley & Ray Parker
Created by Michael Lister
Just a glance at the title of The Big Goodbye (2006; revised 2011), suggested yet another Chandler pastiche, especially when you hear it revolves around a hard-boiled 1940s private detective. Questions arose in my suspicious, hype-weary little brain immediately, like what's the sequel gonna be? The Long Sleep? The Little Sister in the Lake? Or maybe The Maltese Harvest?
It didn't soothe my cynicism, either, that the cover was a big sepia-toned sop to nostalgia.
But author Lister proved he's got more tricks up his sleeve than merely aping Brother Ray in this moody, twitchy slice of 1940's-style Florida noir. JIMMY "SOLDIER" RILEY and his boss RAY PARKER are definitely originals.
Parker is a "squarish and conservative" ex-Pinkerton op who runs a small detective agency in the Florida Panhandle with the assistance of Riley, an idealistic young former cop half his age. Riley lost his right arm while on the force, although most people assume he's a war hero, hence thew "Soldier" nickname.
Rounding out the small staff is the lovestruck July, their part-time secretary, who has it bad for Ray.
Ray's supposed to be the boss, but he's a man of few words, which is why Jimmy acts as narrator, but it works. Jimmy -- through Lister -- brings a nice edge and plenty of snappy patter to the proceedings, as well as a finely wrought sense of time and place, and the faint touch of hero worship both Jimmy and July seem to have for the flawed but captivating Ray adds just the right amount of humanity to keep things grounded and safe from flying into the noirosphere of excess.
And it's not just me. The author, Michael Lister, has received some pretty impressive blurbs from tons of fellow writers I've come to trust, so take note that there's more here than meets the orb. Toss in the use of the Florida Panhandle, caught up in the wartime economic boom, which makes for a fresh setting with plenty of potential, and you've got a winner.
Turns out the author's no cheese-eating rookie, either. A former prison chaplain, Michael Lister is also an award-winning novelist. He grew up in North Florida near the Gulf of Mexico and the Apalachicola River. His previous novels include Thunder Beach and Double Exposure, but he's probably best known for his acclaimed and ongoing series about John Jordan series, an ex-cop turned prison chaplain.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the 2013 sequel was entitled The Big Beyond, and each subsequent novel in the series has followed the same pattern, right down to the yesteryear-drenched covers.
-- Jason Starr
-- Victor Gischler
-- Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
-- Booklist (Starred Review)
-- John Dufresne
-- Kelli Stanley
-- Robert Randisi
Collects all five novels about 1940s hard-boiled Florida P.I., Jimmy "Soldier" Riley.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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