A predictable—but not predictable—noir novel.
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Can you float me a loan? It’s a common question if your friends know you’re flush with cash. Can I hold a ten for a minute? Can you spot me five? Sure, you probably could, but will it be hard to collect on that debt—or, as in the new noir mystery Death Goes Overboard by David S. Pederson, will you be paid back swimmingly?
The weekend was all set. Detective Heath Barrington had everything planned down to the last detail: he and police officer Alan Keyes were heading to a cabin in Northern Wisconsin, just the two of them, under the guise of a “fishing trip.” It was 1947, after all, and discretion was absolutely necessary for two professional gay men. But the getaway would be a great chance to see where their new relationship was going.
Still, despite their caution, rumors could come from anywhere, which was why Barrington was worried when his boss called him in early one day. Fortunately, the chief didn’t want to quiz Barrington on his love life; he wanted to send the detective on a special assignment. Unfortunately, that meant his romantic weekend “fishing trip” would have to wait.
Milwaukee law enforcement had been following Gregor Slavinsky ever since the small-time hood got out of prison, assuming that he’d screw up eventually. And that’s exactly what happened: word on the street was that Slavinsky recently borrowed $25,000 from Benny Ballentine, a bigger crook and the guy the department really wanted to nab. Both were booked on a Lake Michigan excursion, and something was afoot. The chief needed Barrington to find out more.
Barrington boarded a small luxury boat for the weekend tour with a few fellow travelers—two known hoodlums, a henchman, plus a man and his elderly aunt. He thought he’d have no trouble keeping an eye on everyone, especially since the boat’s steward was also an undercover cop. But when a scuffle, a splash, and a missing crook proved otherwise, Barrington knew his assignment had suddenly changed.
Slavinsky was nobody’s favorite guy, but who among the handful of possible suspects had the most reason to kill him?
Every cliché ever packed in a noir novel—every single one—seems to be in Death Goes Overboard. You’ve got mobsters, a fedora-wearing detective in a pinstriped suit, seemingly prim matrons, and man-hungry blondes eager for marriage. It’s like an old black-and-white movie in book form—but curiously, you probably won’t mind.
You won’t mind because author David S. Pederson has packed a lot of else in this novel. You don’t normally find a poetry-writing mobster with a soft side in a noir mystery, for instance, but he’s here. And then there’s the sweetly chaste, budding romance between two men: again, not so unusual, except that one of them is considering something drastic in order to hide his secret—a side-plot that’s historically accurate, and one that fits.
So this novel is both predictable and not, making it a nice diversion for a weekend or vacation. If that’s the kind of book you enjoy, then Death Goes Overboard will make you buoyant.
In the Darkroom
The author set out to investigate someone she scarcely knew—her father. When the feminist writer learned that her 76-year-old father had undergone sex reassignment surgery, the investigation turned personal and urgent. How was this new parent connected to the the silent, explosive, and violent father she had known? Her struggle to come to grips with her father’s reinvented self takes her across borders—historical, political, religious, sexual—to bring her face to face with the question, “Is identity something you ‘choose,’ or is it the very thing you can’t escape?” Now in paperback from Picador (picadorusa.com). —Suzie Lynde
The Tower of Antilles
The Cubans in this collection of stories are haunted by an island: the island they fled, the island they’ve created, the island they were taken to or forced from, the island they long for, the island they return to, and the island that can never be home again. One of the ten stories in the book is “Supermán,” in which several story lines emerge about a 1950s Havana sex-show superstar who disappeared as soon as the revolution triumphed. Akashic Books (akashicbooks.com). —Troy Carrington
This article appears in the July 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine.