A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: The Crime-On-Crime Review Series originated on Crime Syndicate founder Michael Pool’s personal blog. We’ve decided to take over the series here on our website, and as part of that process we’re publishing the first five entries in the series, one per day the rest of this week, leading up to a brand new review on Monday, November 9, 2015. The review below was originally published on September 8, 2015. FULL POST BELOW:
Sam Wiebe’s Last of the Independents has been characterized as “Vancouver Noir,” and with good reason. While in many ways the book is a typical hardboiled detective story, it has a style to it not often seen in the modern hardboiled genre, a throwback from an older era where almost all crime ficiton laid its roots. Think of a young Raymond Chandler writing in a new-millenium Vancouver and all the culture that comes with that, and you’ll have a good sense of what style to expect. Last of the Independents won an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Novel (obviously it has been published, now), and came close to winning a Shamus Award from The Private Eye Writers of America at their 2015 Bouchercon awards dinner.
Wiebe does something I find totally unique and compelling in this book. He shows that detective work isn’t all about hurtling through a thrilling who-done-it mystery, or fist fighting bad guys at every turn. Instead, Wiebe captures what I suspect is the stark reality of detective work: long hours for low pay, and a whole lot of combing back through what you already know in hopes of uncovering better information. It’s a slow process that no doubt ends in mystery more often than a solution. The process takes a toll on all but the most resiliant detective, just as it does to Wiebe’s detective.The process also involves a lot of luck, though luck only shows up for the thorough investigator.
Wiebe’s protagonist Michael Drayton has a thoroughness that is exceeded only by his will to follow his own very specific moral code. Wiebe takes the reader along for the ride in a narrative that is as much about what that slow process and Drayton’s moral obsession does to the rest of his life (and the effect unsolved cases have on his psyche as a whole) as it is about the mysteries themselves. Drayton is a gentle tough guy who walks the reader step by step through cases that include a necrophile at large, a cold case that brought Drayton a new friend in the missing boy’s techy overweight brother, and the new mystery of a boy namde Django who disappered in front of a local pawn shop.
Last of the Independents is about the sacrifices it takes for a man to wade into cases that have very little hope of being solved, and even less hope of bringing in enough bank to put food on the table. Michael Drayton is a sympathetic protagonist, and an easy man to root for because, even when he breaks the rules, it’s in the name of a higher good. This willingness often gives him an angle to pursue the case that actual police simply don’t have, being bound by the law.
The novel is filled throughout with all the tropes one comes to expect from a hardboiled P.I. novel (including a little romance), but makes them feel fresh with Wiebe’s relatively young cast of characters (Drayton is just 29, and most characters in the book fall somewhere in their twenties). Somewhere along the way the book becomes quite touching, but still never lets go of the gritty feel that has become synonymous with hardboiled detective stories.
I highly recommend Last of the Independents, it’s a strong first novel from a young writer already pushing his way to the head of the pack in the next wave of fantastic detective writers. Pick up a copy here, and find Sam Wiebe online at www.samwiebe.com.
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