Helping a Face from His Past
While I got both books published so far in J.R. Sanders’s Nate Ross novels last year, I only got the first one read. I decided to fix that early in 2023, so I picked up Dead-Bang Fall.
Nate Ross is a PI solving cases in late 1930’s Hollywood. He’s an ex-cop forced out when he took down a few dirty cops, making him a pariah among his former co-workers. Even as a PI, he hasn’t lost that distrust from his former brothers in blue.
But Nate’s still getting work. His most recent case starts out quite by accident. He’s been hired to figure out if the usher at a small theater is reselling tickets, something Nate quickly confirms. However, things take a deadly turn when the usher is murdered in a back alley while Nate has him under surveillance. Nate didn’t witness the murder, but he did see one other man go into the alley – one of the cops he helped convict five years earlier.
So you can imagine Nate’s surprise when this corrupt cop stumbles into Nate’s office a few hours later insisting he is innocent and hiring Nate to find the men he says really committed the crime. Then his newest client goes on the run, making Nate question the truth. The more he digs, the more questions he has. Without a clue who to trust, can he figure out what is really happening? Or is his client guilty?
As with the first book, this is very much a private eye novel. As a result, it has a bit more language and violence than I would read in a cozy, but it isn’t excessive. The one thing that did bother me was an excessive use of slang. Early on, the characters seem to want to work as much police jargon from the time into the story as they could. Fortunately, that eased up as the book went along, so the few times it was worked in added to the fun instead feeling overwhelming.
The plot is strong. Nate doesn’t know who to trust, and with good reason because it becomes clear early on that no one is telling him the whole truth. But he is good as learning what is truly going on, even if he hits a few brick walls along the way. The ending was creative and wrapped things up in a satisfying way.
Nate still had some wise cracks in this book, but he was a bit toned down from the first book in the series, or they didn’t hit me the same way they did in the first book. Still, I grinned several times as his antics.
And he makes a strong lead character. While we don’t get quite as much backstory here as we did in the first book, we get enough to fully understand the background to this story. That allows for some interesting growth, and I’m curious to see where things go in the future.
There are a few returning characters in this book, and I enjoyed seeing them again. The majority of the characters are new, and they came to life for me, keeping me guessing about what exactly was going on as I read.
I also enjoyed reading about Hollywood in 1939, and the setting came to life for me. While I didn’t spot any cameos by real people, it was still fun to be living life back in the era for a few hours while I read.
If you are looking for a PI novel that harkens back to the early days of the genre, Dead-Bang Fall is for you. This book will have you turning pages through all the twists and reaching the last one before you know it.