Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery, Procedural, Historical Fiction
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: January 14th 2020
Number of Pages: 162
ISBN: 1087857325 (ISBN13: 9781087857329)
Series: A Shane Cleary Mystery
Purchase Links:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
“Robert B. Parker would stand and cheer, and George V. Higgins would join the ovation. This is a terrific book–tough, smart, spare, and authentic. Gabriel Valjan is a true talent–impressive and skilled–providing knock-out prose, a fine-tuned sense of place and sleekly wry style.”– Hank Phillippi Ryan, nationally bestselling author of The Murder List
Shane Cleary, a PI in a city where the cops want him dead, is tough, honest and broke. When he’s asked to look into a case of blackmail, the money is too good for him to refuse, even though the client is a snake and his wife is the woman who stomped on Shane’s heart years before. When a fellow vet and Boston cop with a secret asks Shane to find a missing person, the paying gig and the favor for a friend lead Shane to an arsonist, mobsters, a shady sports agent, and Boston’s deadliest hitman, the Barbarian. With both criminals and cops out to get him, the pressure is on for Shane to put all the pieces together before time runs out.
I chose to read this book after receiving a free e-copy. All opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased.
Dirty Old Town is a PI novel set in the 1970s. I liked the references to music and TV shows of the period because that’s when I was growing up.
Shane is a PI who is scraping by to make ends meet and accepts a job from an old “friend” because he needs the money. He knows he shouldn’t take the job, especially since an old flame is married to his client. There are a lot of twists and turns, some that I didn’t see coming.
Gabriel Valjan novels aren’t ones that I can sit down and read in one sitting. I thought that a PI novel might be different but it’s not. Because of his writing style, I have to slow down to read his stories to get everything out of them (not necessarily a bad thing).
If you’re a fan of hard-boiled PI novels, you’ll want to check out Dirty Old Town.
The phone rang. Not that I heard it at first, but Delilah, who was lying next to me, kicked me in the ribs. Good thing she did because a call, no matter what the hour, meant business, and my cat had a better sense of finances than I did. Rent was overdue on the apartment, and we were living out of my office in downtown Boston to avoid my landlord in the South End. The phone trilled.
Again, and again, it rang.
I staggered through the darkness to the desk and picked up the receiver. Out of spite I didn’t say a word. I’d let the caller who’d ruined my sleep start the conversation.
“Mr. Shane Cleary?” a gruff voice asked.
The obnoxious noise in my ear indicated the phone had been handed to someone else. The crusty voice was playing operator for the real boss.
“Shane, old pal. It’s BB.”
Dread as ancient as the schoolyard blues spread through me. Those familiar initials also made me think of monogrammed towels and cufflinks. I checked the clock.
“Brayton Braddock. Remember me?”
“It’s two in the morning, Bray. What do you want?”
Calling him Bray was intended as a jab, to remind him his name was one syllable away from the sound of a jackass. BB was what he’d called himself when we were kids, because he thought it was cool. It wasn’t.
He thought it made him one of the guys. It didn’t, but that didn’t stop him. Money creates delusions. Old money guarantees them.
“I need your help.”
“At this hour?”
“Don’t be like that.”
“What’s this about, Bray?”
Delilah meowed at my feet and did figure eights around my legs. My gal was telling me I was dealing with a snake, and she preferred I didn’t take the assignment, no matter how much it paid us. But how could I not listen to Brayton Braddock III? I needed the money. Delilah and I were both on a first-name basis with Charlie the Tuna, given the number of cans of Starkist around the office. Anyone who told you poverty was noble is a damn fool.
“I’d rather talk about this in person, Shane.”
I fumbled for pen and paper.
“When and where?”
“Beacon Hill. My driver is on his way.”
I heard the click. I could’ve walked from my office to the Hill. I turned on the desk light and answered the worried eyes and mew. “Looks like we both might have some high-end kibble in our future, Dee.”
She understood what I’d said. Her body bumped the side of my leg. She issued plaintive yelps of disapproval. The one opinion I wanted, from the female I trusted most, and she couldn’t speak human.
“Tell me more about this situation you have.”
“Quite simple, really. Someone in my company is blackmailing me.”
“And which company is that?”
“Immaterial at the moment. Please do take a seat.”
I declined his attempt at schmooze. This wasn’t social. This was business.
“If you know who it is,” I said, “and you want something done about it, I’d recommend the chauffeur without reservation, or is it that you’re not a hundred percent sure?”
I approached Bray and leaned down to talk right into his face. I did it out of spite. One of the lessons I’d learned is that the wealthy are an eccentric and paranoid crowd. Intimacy and germs rank high on their list of phobias.
“I’m confident I’ve got the right man.” Brayton swallowed some of his expensive liquor.
“Then go to the police and set up a sting.”
“I’d like to have you handle the matter for me.”
“I’m not muscle, Brayton. Let’s be clear about that. You mean to say a man of your position doesn’t have any friends on the force to do your dirty work?”
“Like you have any friends there?”
I threw a hand onto each of the armrests and stared into his eyes. Any talk about the case that bounced me off the police force and into the poorhouse soured my disposition. I wanted the worm to squirm.
“Watch it, Bray. Old bones ought to stay buried. I can walk right out that door.”
“That was uncalled for, and I’m sorry,” he said. “This is a clean job.”
Unexpected. The man apologized for the foul. I had thought the word “apology” had been crossed out in his family dictionary. I backed off and let him breathe and savor his brandy.
I needed the job. The money. I didn’t trust Bray as a kid, nor the man the society pages said saved New England with his business deals and largesse.
I didn’t say I’d accept the job. I wanted Braddock to simmer and knew how to spike his temperature.
I let Bray Braddock cook. If he could afford to drink centennial grape juice then he could sustain my contempt. I gulped his cognac to show what a plebe I was, and handed the glass back to Cat with a wink. She walked to the bar and poured herself another splash, while I questioned my future employer. “Has this blackmailer made any demands? Asked for a sum?”
“None,” Braddock answered.
“But he knows details about your acquisition?” I asked.
“He relayed a communication.”
Braddock yelled out to his butler, who appeared faster than recruits I’d known in Basic Training. The man streamed into the room, gave Braddock two envelopes, and exited with an impressive gait. Braddock handed me one of the envelopes.
I opened it. I fished out a thick wad of paperwork. Photostats. Looking them over, I saw names and figures and dates. Accounting.
“Xeroxes,” Braddock said. “They arrived in the mail.”
“Copies? What, carbon copies aren’t good enough for you?”
“We’re beyond the days of the hand-cranked mimeograph machine, Shane. My partners and I have spared no expense to implement the latest technology in our offices.”
I examined pages. “Explain to me in layman’s terms what I’m looking at, the abridged version, or I’ll be drinking more of your brandy.”
The magisterial hand pointed to the decanter. “Help yourself.”
“Those copies are from a ledger for the proposed deal. Keep them. Knowledgeable eyes can connect names there to certain companies, to certain men, which in turn lead to friends in high places, and I think you can infer the rest. Nothing illegal, mind you, but you know how things get, if they find their way into the papers. Yellow journalism has never died out.”
I pocketed the copies. “It didn’t die out, on account of your people using it to underwrite the Spanish-American War. If what you have here is fair-and-square business, then your problem is public relations—a black eye the barbershops on Madison Ave can pretty up in the morning. I don’t do PR, Mr. Braddock. What is it you think I can do for you?”
“Ascertain the identity of the blackmailer.”
“Then you aren’t certain of…never mind. And what do I do when I ascertain that identity?”
“Nothing. I’ll do the rest.”
“Coming from you, that worries me, seeing how your people have treated the peasants, historically speaking.”
Brayton didn’t say a word to that.
“And that other envelope in your lap?” I asked.
The balding halo on the top of his head revealed itself when he looked down at the envelope. Those sickly lips parted when he faced me. I knew I would hate the answer. Cat stood behind him. She glanced at me then at the figure of a dog chasing a rabbit on the carpet.
“Envelope contains the name of a lead, an address, and a generous advance. Cash.”
Brayton tossed it my way. The envelope, fat as a fish, hit me. I caught it.
About the Author
Gabriel is the author of two series, Roma and Company Files, with Winter Goose Publishing. Dirty Old Town is the first in the Shane Cleary series for Level Best Books. His short stories have appeared online, in journals, and in several anthologies. He has been a finalist for the Fish Prize, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and received an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest in 2018. You can find him on Twitter (@GValjan) and Instagram (gabrielvaljan). He lurks the hallways at crime fiction conferences, such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. Gabriel is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime.
Catch Up With Gabriel Valjan On:
GabrielValjan.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!
This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Gabriel Valjan. There will be one (1) winner. The winner will receive an Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on March 1, 2020 and runs through May 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.
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