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Spotlight on: The Dirt-Brown Derby by Ed Lynskey

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The Dirt-Brown Derby by Ed Lynskey Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby

Now or never, it was my turn. I jacked upright, the 9 mil an extension of my arm. I rolled right, my natural side. Kilby was at the pew's end, three rows off to my front. The backlit stained glass windows imprinted his lank profile. It was a sweet shot. And I took it. My finger jerked the trigger. -- from The Dirt-Brown Derby

Author Ed Lynskey and his series character, private eye Frank Johnson, have been around for a while, but you may not yet know their names because The Dirt-Brown Derby is Lynskey's debut novel. It is published by Mundania Press, a small publisher whose books I've been very impressed with -- see also Adrienne Jones's The Hoax and Jeff Strand's Andrew Mayhem series.

At this writing, Lynskey has published over 40 short stories featuring Johnson, both in print and online. Of these, 15 were gathered in his first book, Out of Town for a Few Days, a short story collection currently available as an e-book for $2.99. It looks like Johnson was ready to stretch his legs for a longer case this time around, and Lynskey was happy to oblige.

If Johnson had plans, spending the third week of April in Kaiser, Virginia, probably wasn't among them. At the beginning of The Dirt-Brown Derby, Johnson simply cannot resist the $200,000 paycheck (could you?) offered by Mrs. Mary Taliaferro for finding the murderer of her daughter Emily -- even though Johnson and the police agree on the culprit: Emily's horse, Hellbent.

On the contrary, Mrs. Taliaferro states, "no true-breed horse will choose to crush a human," and the hunt is on for a human killer. Not soon enough to save the next victim a trip to the morgue, however, but if the mysterious death of Emily's father is anything to go on, at least this won't be a wild goose chase (not unlike when Nick Charles goes looking for a killer at the racetrack in Shadow of the Thin Man).

Johnson, like most PIs, is a have-not thrust among the haves. In fact, he is only a private investigator because he had no other ambition, his on-and-off girlfriend Sheila saw it as steady work, and he passed the licensure exam. In other words, Johnson is pretty much just treading water like a lot of people. If he can solve the case (alongside Deputy Sheriff Thornbird), while slipping a little romance in for good measure, and maybe buy a new car with the proceeds, he'll be coming out ahead.

Lynskey has created Johnson from classic stock. If it weren't so modern-looking, The Dirt-Brown Derby would feel just like a detective novel from the old days; Johnson even has an oddly stilted way of speaking that reminded me of the difficulty I first had reading the novels of Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald. But the prose is taut (read every word, or you'll get lost), the attitude is sharp (but not without compassion), and the characters are deeply drawn (and it's hard to know who to trust).

If you've got a taste for an old-fashioned PI novel, consider picking up The Dirt-Brown Derby. It may not have the kind of lurid cover you have to hide from your co-workers, but the content is just as tough and readable as ever. And when you're done, and find you really like Lynskey's style, don't fret because his next Frank Johnson case The Blue Cheer comes out in February 2007 from Point Blank Press, with another from Mundania, Pelham Fell Here (that goes back to an earlier time in Frank's life), due to drop later in the year. Other books are making the rounds, too, so I have a feeling that Ed Lynskey is a name mystery fans are going to become very familiar with in the near future.

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