Wartime loyalty, dangerous dames, and mountain mobsters collide in Once a Man Indulges, a PI thriller from the meticulous pen of author Tony Kelsey.
This neo-noir tale is set in post-war 1949, when ongoing survival was far from promised, and the soldiers who had come back were often scarred in ways too complex to explain. An unexpected reunion with a past military mentor sends Harry Thorpe, rough-around-the-edges private detective, spiraling into the dark depths of Denver’s seediest realms, in this gritty blend of mystery and history.
Harry Thorpe is both original and familiar – a scarred protagonist with a skillset from the past, pushed to nearly unbelievable lengths in his defense of righteous justice. As his investigation carries him further into the murky realm of his mentor’s morality, and the shadowy European evil taking root in America, Thorpe redefines himself as a slick and street-wise soldier on the homefront. His professional relationship with Officer Greenberg is also unique and familiar, generating camaraderie through conflict that is a suspenseful pleasure to read.
Kelsey sets the tone in the first few pages – grim, gritty, and matter-of-fact – a classic tack on the noir genre. The language throughout is clipped and clever, giving every scene a 1940s wise-guy attitude, combined with a Denver edge – an uncertain place where wilderness and civilization collide. The narration is simultaneously informative and straightforward, balanced well between essential information, snapshot scene descriptions, and suggestive, cliff-hanger moments that make it hard to stop reading. Readers are compelled to dig into this mystery at the same pace as the narrator, reveling in the chase, and each freshly alluring lead.
The complex, ever-widening plotline feels steeped in symbolism, but also raw in its immediacy and visceral action, which gives every scene and snappy line more impact. The quick-witted dialogue feels ripped from a black-and-white alleyway, replete with mysterious women and deliciously dangerous repartee. Maintaining the same speed and wit over the course of an entire book would be a challenge for any author, but the prose is relentlessly good, as Kelsey knows how to transport readers with ease.
The author’s personal experience as a military vet is also clear; digging into the psychology of a soldier isn’t something that can be fabricated. These moments are subtle and authentic, and handled with the appropriate sensitivity, but also captured in a matter-of-fact, non-sugarcoated way. In short, the novel has all the elements of effective crime fiction: excellent pacing, an unpredictable story, and complex but relatable characters.
This is a noir thriller like few others, pushing beyond the two-dimensional stereotypes of that oft-dusty genre to deliver a thought-provoking tale that seems both nostalgic and contemporary.