Sam Wiebe’s Last of the Independents has been characterized as “Vancouver noir.” And with good reason. In many ways a typical hardboiled detective story, Last of the Independents also has its own unique style and approach.
Last of the Independents is a throwback from an older era, an era where crime fiction laid its roots. Think of a young Raymond Chandler writing in a new-millennium Vancouver (and all the culture that comes with that), and you’ll have a good sense of what style to expect.
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 the stark reality of detective work. Long hours for low pay. A whole lot of combing back through what you already know in hopes of uncovering better information.
It’s a slow process that often ends in more mystery than a solution. The process takes a toll on all but the most resilient detective. Just as it does to Wiebe’s detective, Michael Drayton. The process also involves a lot of luck, the kind that only shows up for those willing to show up themselves.
Michael Drayton’s thoroughness is exceeded only by his will to follow his own code. Wiebe takes the reader along for the ride in a narrative centered around Drayton’s moral obsession, and what it does to the rest of his life.
Last of the Independents also hones in on the effect unsolved cases have on Drayton’s obsessed psyche. Drayton’s a gentle tough guy.
Along the way, Drayton finds a new friend in the missing boy’s techy overweight brother.
Last of the Independents highlights the sacrifices required to wade into unsolvable cases, the kind that bring with them little hope of putting enough food on the table.
Michael Drayton is a sympathetic protagonist and an easy man to root for. Even when he breaks the rules, it’s in the name of a higher good. This often gives him an angle the police simply don’t have.
The novel contains all the tropes readers expect from a hardboiled P.I. novel (including a little romance). However, it freshens them up nicely through Wiebe’s relatively young cast of characters (Drayton is just 29).
Somewhere along the way, Last of the Independents becomes quite touching without letting go of its gritty feel.
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 hard-boiled fiction.