The Dirt-Brown Derby Review
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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" category.

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.

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