Genre: Hard-boiled Mystery/Suspense
Just when private investigator Sonny Busco's debts threaten to overwhelm him, he's approached for what seems a very simple job given by an attractive young woman. He's to take a suitcase carrying an experimental alloy sample to Santa Fe. Soon, he finds himself running from numerous people who want what he's carrying and aren't afraid of a little violence.
With its struggling PI lead, tangled web of investigation, and more than a few attractive women, The Steel Deal is a call-back to an older style of hard-boiled detective story. Not only are the plot and character evocative of those types of stories, but the PI's running mental commentary on the case, the state of the world, and detail-oriented view of the world remind the reader of some of the classic hard-boiled stories. The writing style lends itself to strong primary character development though depending on one's particularly stylistic taste, some readers may find the inner monologue excessive. Fans of the older style of hard-boiled fiction shouldn't mind. While the web of secondary characters do not get nearly as much development, the various plot twists and interesting quirks help elevate them away from being mere stereotypes, even if they are filling some of the requisite roles in this genre (e.g., femme fatale).
Though the novel starts off a bit slowly, once the main plot is underway, the pacing serves the dramatic tension well. Whenever the tension threatens to sag, an answer, revelation, or new twist appears to keep the reader engaged. Unfortunately, the denouement ran a bit long. It wasn't enough of a misstep to seriously impact my enjoyment of the plot, but it was noticeable. There were also some sexual elements in the story that, though not inherently out of place in this type of story, did seem kind of unnecessary given their particular position in the plot.
Sonny is not a perfect man, and indeed arguably a bit of a loser at the beginning of the story, but he's a well-actualized intelligent individual with an admirable sense of duty to his task. Really, the issue seems to be a bit of poor impulse control on the part of Sonny, a particular tragedy given his obvious intelligence. While his motivations aren't exactly the stuff of humanitarian awards, he does, on balance, have enough of a heroic streak to make him both likable and interesting. As he's a bit on the older side, 55, and not a man of impressive means or physical talents, there's a greater tension involved in his scenes of physical danger. Rather, Sonny uses his wit and intellect to guide him through the case. At the same time, he's not presented as some sort of improbable Sherlock Holmes.
I've noted the classic hard-boiled mystery DNA that runs through The Steel Deal, but the novel is also a modernized take on the genre. The plot takes into account modern technology and neutralizes certain elements of it in entertaining ways. In addition, the book takes advantage of Sonny's insights and the modern nature of the society to explore additional sociological themes other than just the nature of local corruption or personal greed. Taking advantage of the more generalized cynicism directed toward all levels of government, the novel is also able to weave in larger thriller conspiracy elements that enhance the scope of both the plot and the thematic exploration. While I enjoyed these elements, admittedly someone who is more a hard-boiled purist may find them off-putting.
The Steel Deal is available at:
The Steel Deal is available at: