Open Shadow by Charles Walker

Whether a fan of wingtips-scuffing-on-wet-pavement noir masters like Chandler and Hammett or contemporary favorites Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, and Dennis Lahane, Open Shadow is an ideal read for enthusiasts of hardboiled crime fiction.

It was supposed to be an easy job. Find out what Daniel Voss, the petulant son of a pharmaceutical magnate, is up to when he disappears into the night and returns home at dawn several times a week. That's what the boy's mother, Dorothy, wants to know when she hires Levon Apfelwein, a jaded private investigator who, frankly, could use the payday. But what starts as a routine job and easy money soon devolves into a story of blackmail, lust, betrayal, heartbreak, and, of course, murder.

Open Shadow is set in 1957 Los Angeles and unfolds in the dark and jazzy era of smoke-filled saloons, hard numbers, fast women, and predawn drinking followed by red-eye breakfasts. Pimps, pushers, suckers, gamblers, hard-luck oddballs, and grifters litter the landscape, each looking for an angle, a long odds payout, and the fast nickel. Joy girls prowl the street corners and gloomy, two-bits-a-drink gin mills, catering to the more esoteric kinks on the sexual spectrum and plying their trade with johns out for a cheap thrill. Where the guy next to you is more apt to wear a sidearm than a wristwatch and a lady expects a twenty for the powder room, everyone is on the chisel and life, though not necessarily cheap, certainly goes on sale with alarming regularity.

As the soup thickens and the bodies start piling up, Levon finds himself under fire, knee-deep in redheads, and stumbling onto a honeytrap blackmail scheme entwined with familial duplicity and the narcotics trade. Complicating matters, he falls for two beautiful women. One is a mysterious glamor puss with movie star looks who frequents blind tigers and hot-sheet hotels for kicks. The other is a feisty, voluptuous archivist with a taste for bad boys and the danger they attract. The women, each with their own secrets, are polar opposites in every possible way - one the femme to the other's fatale, though it's difficult to tell who's who at times, as their motivations shift with the ever-changing tides.

Levon races through the Benzedrine-fueled, alcohol-soaked days and nights trying to unearth the mystery driving Daniel's nocturnal activities and the shocking secrets it holds. The swirling and tumbling pieces of the puzzle eventually coalesce around a singular, cruel conclusion confirming Levon's worst suspicions and leaving him with one question. Is he uncovering the truth, or is he merely a pawn in a much larger game?

There is no internet or smart phones. Computers are the size of a Macy's showroom, and television is in black-and-white and only picks up three channels if the wind is blowing right. All Levon has at his disposal are his wits, a Colt .45, a bit of luck, and a burning drive to uncover the truth, no matter the cost to himself or those around him.

Mickey Spillane has Mike Hammer walking the mean streets of New York. Dashiell Hammett gives us Sam Spade and a moody, foggy San Francisco. Raymond Chandler and Michael Connelly put Philip Marlowe and Harry Bosch in a Los Angles that blends the glamorous and seedy beneath swaying palm trees and the brilliant sunlight of Southern California. Traveling a similar vein, Open Shadow introduces the latest member into the pantheon of world-weary, literary sleuths pounding the pavement, chasing down criminality, and trying to stay clean in the process. Levon Apfelwein is a hard-drinking and harder-hearted private detective with an elastic moral code who wants to do the right thing but not always for the right reasons. Charles Walker's debut novel is a simmering page-turner with a brooding cinematic feel that's part detective story, part romance but hardboiled noir fiction at its black heart.