Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Book: The Good Son, by Russel D. McLean (2009)

In Ross Macdonald’s novels, P.I. Lew Archer keeps the talk about himself to a minimum. His focus is on his clients, not himself. They provide the drama and the revelations. Archer simply observes. And in so doing becomes a full-blooded character.

J. McNee, the Dundee detective who features in the debut novel by Russel D. McLean, is a man after Archer’s heart. Or at least he’s trying to be. A low-key professional, he keeps the needs of James Robertson foremost in his thoughts. Robertson wants to know why his estranged brother returned after decades away from Scotland to hang himself on the family farm.

But as McNee digs for answers that extend deep into the London underworld, the personal life that he strives to keep under wraps insists on intruding. Jagged shards of pain slash through his detachment as he comes to closer to a truth neither he nor his client wants to learn. We never find out what the J. abbreviates, but we soon know what McNee stands for.

Visit Russel’s blog and you’ll notice that his poor sense of direction is a recurring theme. During Bouchercon, where we shared a few drinks with Russel, we encountered him on the streets of San Francisco, trying to navigate his way to the Shamus Awards dinner where he was justifiably nominated for Best First P.I. novel. We pointed our beardy traveler toward true north (or at least a Chinese restaurant) and sent him on his way. Russel may get lost in foreign lands, but not on the page. The Good Son is a bracing, emotional take on the private eye, and a sequel will be out next year.