Storm Cell by Brendan DuBois is the 10th Lewis Cole Mystery, where defense analyst Lewis Cole must try to save a close friend from a death row murder conviction (Available November 22, 2016).
Fletcher Moore—the chairman of the Tyler, New Hampshire board of selectman and all around respected good egg—is murdered with two slugs to the head. On trial for the slaying is “security consultant” Felix Tinios, one of protagonist Lewis Cole’s best friends. It appears to be a slam dunk case, with even Felix’s 9mm SIG Sauer recovered at the crime scene.
What’s befuddling Lewis is that besides Felix forgoing regular attorney Raymond Drake in favor of Hollis Spinelli, for two weeks Felix has avoided all contact with Lewis—something smells funny and he knows it. Adding to the strangeness, two FBI special agents, Krueger and Zimmer, ask Lewis to poke his nose into the situation to see if there are any gaps in the state’s case.
Apparently, Felix has done work for the feds and they are taking an active interest in the case from a comfortable distance—apparently still weary after the Whitey Bulger fallout. Hard to believe that it’s plausible they would interact with a civilian in this manner, but, then again, the Bulger mention proves G-Men haven’t always stayed within the lines. Agent Krueger mentions the too oft-quoted standard that they will disavow all knowledge of Lewis should he get caught, even though they are providing him with the cover: Law Enforcement Bulletin.
“What I meant was this: what happens if I get into trouble, or arrested, or if some curious member of the Fourth Estate wonders why an unemployed magazine columnist has his hands on a nice, pricey freelance contract? What happens if questions come your way?”
“Not my problem,” Krueger said. “You’re on your own.”
I held up the envelope with the contract and business card inside. “And how would I explain this?”
“Beats the hell out of me,” Krueger said. “But we’d say that under pressure and mental anguish, you stole my business card and faked those documents to give you some comfort that you were back at your writing gig.”
I lowered the envelope. “I guess you guys think of everything.”
So, the feds and coppers lingo hasn’t changed all that much since Spade and Marlowe sassed them; nonetheless, there’s an enjoyment to the conversant cadence as Lewis bucks the system to save his friend—a friend that reminds me a lot of another detective classic: Robert B. Parker’s Hawk from the Spenser series. Specifically, the Hawk from the 1970s to early ‘80s era, when he was one major badass that traversed both sides of the moral divide, often working the shadier avenues to get results—the ends justified the means kinda dude. Felix Tinios seemingly strides that same path, and it doesn’t come as a surprise in the least to other acquaintances of Lewis that the hard guy has simply gone a stretch too far and has been caught.
Lewis Cole was an English major before becoming a research analyst for the Department of Defense. He’s a likable enough character, though one who thinks he’s funnier than what he is, and the first-person narrative jive gets old before the last page. Since this is Lewis’s tenth outing, I must assume I’m in the minority, and that’s fine.
My interest was sustained as Lewis investigates in a straight, headlong, blundering manner, asking Paula Quinn, an assistant editor for the local rag, for information on the deceased. She declines. Impersonating a floral delivery driver, he knocks on the door of Raymond Drake—Felix’s regular lawyer—finding the man’s house occupied, possibly by individuals holding Drake hostage. He leaves the flowers, realizing if he pushes the point he might get himself killed.
Instead, he relays the situation to the FBI, who say they will handle it. Clearly, Lewis is not the typical bust through the front door to save the day hero, which is refreshing. And, in fitting with his former research analyst persona, he moves to scope out the apartment where the victim was killed, running into Detective Steve Josephs, who appears to be a version of Batman’s Harvey Bullock, in attitude at least. An all-blustering, in-your-face cop that, despite his dislike for Lewis, lets him onto the crime scene to poke around. Again, not exactly protocol, but truth is stranger than fiction, and it falls within expectations of this type of narrative.
When a friend of Spinelli shows up and threatens to burn down Lewis’s house if he doesn’t stop harassing Spinelli, the conversation turns into a violent encounter:
But he fell back and stumbled over a rock, and I was on him, slugging him in the chest, face, and anyplace else I could.
He moved back pretty hard, clocking me under the chin and making me bite my tongue, and I fell, too. He jumped on me, straddled my chest, started pounding me. I grabbed him around the waist, felt something hard and metallic. I tore at his jacket and shirt, felt the grip of a pistol. I tugged it free and jammed it into his side.
He fell back. I struggled to my feet, aiming the pistol—a small .32, it looked like—and he got up as well, face swollen.
A siren sounded out on Atlantic Avenue. I tossed the pistol into the mess of rocks, boulders, and crevasses behind me.
Lewis ends up getting the worse of the rough and tumble, arrested, and then let go when the thug decides not to press charges. Though, later, he calls Lewis up still threatening him to stay away from Hollis. Using some probing “Jedi” powers, Lewis learns that Hollis had ordered the enforcer to Tyler, which means we probably have a dirty lawyer representing Felix. And there’s more action, more courtroom badminton, more snarky humor from Lewis, and eventually the truth as to why Felix came to be marked for Fletcher Moore’s murder.
Storm Cell is well-plotted, tripwire of a novel that makes you recall the fictional detectives that have come before but in its own very energetic prose.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.