Bravo to Ed Lynskey for The Dirt-Brown Derby, introducing PI Frank
Johnson. This book joins the elite few in my "Wow, what a good book"
Johnson is a PI hired by wealthy horse-ranch owner Mary Taliaferro to
investigate the death of her daughter, who was supposedly killed in a fall
from her horse. Johnson is broke, and the woman’s prompt payment of
$200,000 convinces him to take the case. Off he goes to the little
town of Kaiser, Virginia, where everyone is in bed with everyone else
(literally and figuratively). Frank’s only in town one day and there’s another
dead body—the horse trainer. Trouble follows Frank Johnson wherever he
goes, whether he’s looking for it or not. When his car breaks down on the
side of the road, Johnson goes looking for help and stumbles upon a crime
in progress, which further complicates his investigative efforts and
hinders his progress.
The book shops are crammed with private detective books, so what makes
this one different? Well, for one, Frank Johnson is a regular guy. He’s
not a superhero; he’s not incredibly talented or good-looking in a James
Bond way; he possesses a dry wit, but he also has flaws. I couldn’t help
but like the guy. For another, Lynskey’s writing is wonderful; he brings
a voice to the story that’s anything but bland. The book is fast-paced, and
the characters are well developed—essential for holding a reader’s
interest. There’s the shady sheriff whose drunken brother is the security
guard at Mary Taliaferro’s horse farm, the gardener with a gambling
problem and his housekeeper wife, the town’s bad boys, the Kilby cousins, the
good-hearted deputy sheriff, and Johnson’s old flame, Sheila.
The one problem I had with the book was the lack of introduction to
Johnson’s character. Johnson’s past as a former police officer and
alcoholic as well as his past relationship with Sheila is revealed
throughout the story, but I still felt as though I were missing a previous
book, in which we meet Johnson’s character and become familiar with his past.
The Dirt-Brown Derby is an outstanding effort and a great read. Ed
Lynskey deserves high praise. He has created a character worthy of Nelson
DeMille’s John Corey or Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie. Lynskey has
another Frank Johnson book, The Blue Cheer, coming out soon, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.