A well-plotted and compelling tale, despite a few inaccuracies.
Kelsey offers a debut noir mystery featuring a memorable private detective seeking answers in 1949 Denver.
Harry Thorpe, a World War II veteran, is known to his friends as “Fuzzy,” plays bass fiddle at a jazz club, and has a fondness for bourbon. During the day, he works as a private eye, which mostly entails trailing unfaithful spouses. Although he finds this “depressing,” the pay is steady and the effort required is relatively minimal: “Snap some pics. Take some notes. Then help people ruin their lives.” When he’s asked to look into some threatening letters sent to his old Air Force colonel Christian Marquand, he balks at first; Marquand is cagey about the letters’ specific content and says that he burned them after reading them. Despite his misgivings, Thorpe finally accepts the case—and the hefty retainer that goes with it. He soon becomes entangled with other members of the Marquand family, getting to know the colonel’s wife, Louise, and falling for her darkly mysterious sister, Loren. But although the letters keep coming, Marquand continues to reveal little about them. Then Marquand’s young son is kidnapped, which ratchets up the stakes. What follows is a well-constructed narrative that gains momentum as the facts of the abduction—and the colonel’s shady connections—come to light. Some readers may be bothered by occasional anachronisms; Thorpe orders Macallan Scotch at a dive bar, even though single-malt Scotch whisky wasn’t available in the United States in 1949, and occasional 21st-century phrases such as “It’s all good” feel out of place. Kelsey proves to be a sharp storyteller, though, layering his narrative with suspense and romance and rounding out his characters with vivid traits and enough backstory to make them feel fully formed. In addition to being a sharp-tongued, hard-drinking detective, Thorpe is revealed to be a Princeton University graduate, a skilled researcher, and someone who’s suffered greatly from the trauma of war. Indeed, World War II and its atrocities loom over the entire novel.