(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JUL 15, 2005)
"The Tates were identical twins. They were buddies of Carter's. Working buddies. Psychotic buddies. Painfully thin, with pale, white skin, they both stood about five foot eight. Sad eyes and monobrows made them look like forlorn raccoons. Each sported a tight Marine crew cut of jet black hair. Timmy wore a white bandana around his forehead. Jimmy sported a green one. Camouflage pants and a couple of black T-shirts completed their renegade ensemble.
The only way to tell them apart is that Jimmy's right eye is fake, the result of taking a pool cue in the face during a fight with his brother. He's somehow obtained a glass eye that had a red stone in the middle of it, giving him the look of having stepped out of a photograph where the flash didn't work correctly.
That's how I knew it was Jimmy that was talking to me."
Noah Braddock, surfer dude extraordinaire turned private investigator, makes his literary debut in Killer Swell, an unusual whodunit which proves to be well worth a reader's investigation. Braddock, a character as fresh as the clean salt air wafting over his tiny beach front apartment in Mission Beach, near San Diego, is the antithesis of the typically brooding, cynical, divorced, alcohol-guzzling, investigators who "protagonize" so many sleuth books nowadays. He's a Californian! And he is young - not quite thirty, smart, attractive, athletic, (he still rides the waves), witty, and definitely not lonely. He drinks beer, but otherwise I get the feeling that his body is a temple - although others are wont to beat up on it, especially if they don't like the questions he asks. Noah's got a couple of delightfully quirky friends, who would be extremely noir if they weren't continually drenched by the left coast sun. And he has a lush, lovely lady - sort of. Ambivalent Homicide Detective Liz Santangelo cannot decide whether to cuff Noah and read him his rights, or to take him home with her at night.
In Killer Swell Braddock learns that his first love, Kate Crier, has gone missing when her distraught mother, Marilyn, asks him to find her. Marilyn and Ken Crier, a wealthy society couple living in La Jolla, did everything in their power to break up their daughter's relationship with the socially inferior, and impoverished, Noah Braddock during the young twosome's high school years. They finally succeeded, and Kate and Noah have not seen each other for well over a decade. The Criers despised Noah, and the feeling was mutual, thus his shock that they are seeking to employ him now. He reluctantly accepts the case. He feels he owes it to Kate, in spite of his loathing for her parents.
The usual suspects are questioned, beginning with Kate's husband, Dr. Randall Tower, who is not very forthcoming. Apparently there were marital problems. Kate is unhappy, and a separation had been discussed, but nothing which would make her run away and stay away for over a week. For that matter, both Criers are evasive and only open up when our PI threatens to quit. Emily Crier, Kate's older sister, and Braddock's friend from school, looks to him for comfort and gives him some real clues as to what was going on in her sister's life.
The next step is a visit to the hotel where Kate stays when in town. That she chooses to go to the Marriott rather than her parent's home, or her sister's, says something about family relationships. The woman at the front desk tells Braddock that Kate had checked out two days early. In the hotel parking lot Noah spots an isolated Mercedes and gets a sick feeling in his gut. The smell emanating from the trunk says dead body loud and clear. It is Kate, and her life is long gone.
This fast-paced mystery is not terribly complex. However there's lots of excitement and a few unexpected twists and turns which will interest even the most discerning reader. The novel's real strength lies in the winning cast of characters, especially Braddock's buddies, his lady and even a major villain. And I am fascinated by surfing, a sport I tried but gave-up due to the fact I could never make it to a standing position. While there's not much board time, what there is is beautifully descriptive. I'm fairly picky when it comes to mysteries and thrillers. There are so many of these beach books on the market. Yet, I know I will come back for more of Noah Braddock. Jeff Shelby has created a character who is a real character. The narrative is exceptionally well written and the dialogue is excellent. What a debut! Way to go!!
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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About the Author:
Jeff Shelby was born in Torrance, California, but grew up in San Diego. He eventually (after eight years) earned a B.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine. After two years directing youth sports programs for the YMCA and four years as an athletics administrator and girls basketball coach at a private high school, he quit to be a stay at home dad and full time writer.
Jeff and his wife, Stephanie, and daughter, Hannah, live in Castle Rock, Colorado.