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By David Freed

Permanent Press, May 15, 2012 ($29.00)

ISBN-13: 978-1-57962-272-5
Kindle eBook: ($9.99)

Reviewed by Sam Waas

FLAT SPIN is a well written modern mystery that's very entertaining, but tries too hard. Ever meet a pal for drinks, and your friend feels obligated to prove he's the life of the party by wisecracking nonstop at every opportunity? Nothing especially bad, taken alone, but by eight p.m. you're looking for the door, wishing your buddy would just ramp it down a teeny bit.

The narrative in this novel reminds me of that friend. With most mysteries, even the grim ones, the protagonist often makes sarcastic observations and clever comebacks. Cracking wise is endemic to mystery fiction. In this book, however, the author takes this technique on a long walk with a short leash. Nearly every sentence of dialogue or narrative contains snappy asides or comments. I was soon searching for that doorway into some straight-ahead prose.

Nevertheless, FLAT SPIN is a good mystery, the story interesting and well paced. The overuse of wiseguy dialogue only detracts slightly and you've still got a solid plot with a literate and polished narrative.

Cordell Logan ekes out a subsistence existence as a private pilot instructor in central California. His love of flying keeps him in the game although he struggles to pay his bills. Cordell's life soon takes an unexpected turn when his ex-wife Savannah comes to see him about her husband's murder. This is the first Cordell has heard of the incident because Savannah and her husband, Arlo Echevarria, live down the coast in LA, and because the divorce was extremely contentious. Arlo used to be Cordell's boss when they were covert assassins for the CIA and had an equally covert affair with Savannah.

Savannah's wealthy father hires Cordell to look into the murder and Cordell takes the job reluctantly, but with his bank account on zero and the hangar where he keeps his Cessna ready to kick him out for overdue rent, he has little choice.

Police have few clues and, although amenable to Cordell when he tells them about the secretive hit team and enemies he and Arlo may have made, they have no confirmation from the government and therefore are reluctant to believe him.

Cordell is mostly on his own as he probes the murder of his former partner and friend. Attempts are soon made on Cordell's life and the shady complexity of Arlo's post-CIA lifestyle lead to drug deals, gangs, and other criminal activity. More and more people who may have wished Arlo dead crop up with each turn in the investigation.

FLAT SPIN is a good read, modern and engaging. Its only flaws are the incessant wisecracking and slightly overwrought details on the technique of flying. Both tend to get in the way of the story line at times. Nevertheless I recommend this novel, both to private detective fans and those who prefer contemporary mystery themes.

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