Palm trees, sandy beaches and warm ocean breezes typically aren't the makings of a gritty detective novel. They are in Yesterday's Echo, local author Matt Coyle's debut novel and the first in the Rick Cahill detective series.
As the title suggests, Cahill has a lot of baggage. He's an ex-cop who left the force in disgrace when he was accused of his wife's murder. Although he wasn't convicted, he was never cleared and many of his former colleagues harbor the belief that he's guilty. Cahill's father was also a police officer who was drummed out of the force under less-than-stellar circumstances.
Cahill drags the baggage of his many sins, and the sins of his father, to La Jolla, where he works in a restaurant. The quiet life Cahill has built for himself explodes one night when a beautiful woman enters the bar and is followed by a pair of dangerous men, one of whom ends up dead in a motel room.
As one tough guy quips early in the story: "Life can be dangerous. Even in La Jolla."
I generally don't care for police procedurals because the notion of the cop as hero has always been problematic for me. Yesterday's Echo is lousy with power-tripping cops, corrupt cops, asshole cops (I know I'm getting redundant here), which makes the peril feel real. And for Cahill, it's all very personal.
"My dad died when I was a sophomore in college. The man I'd loved as a child, feared as a kid, hated as a teenager. His ex-partner was the only cop who attended the memorial service. That was the day I decided to become a police officer. I never let myself believe that I was doing it to erase the tarnish my father had brought to the family name. It was only after I'd turned tarnish to rot that I realized what I was trying to do."
In the middle of this firestorm is Melody Malana, a classic femme fatale who knows a great deal about Cahill's past. While Cahill is generally a stand-up guy, he's slept with virtually all of the female characters in the novel, which further complicates things.
Yesterday's Echo won a San Diego Book Award in the mystery category and also took home the 2104 Best First Novel Anthony Award at Bouchercon 2014, an annual crime writers conference. It's easy to see why. Yesterday's Echo is a tightly plotted detective story about a man wrongly accused. Nonstop action, well-written scenes, and a bit of wit make Yesterday's Echo a welcome addition to the growing canon of California noir. Rick Cahill will be making his return this June in Coyle's follow-up, Night Tremors.
San Diego also makes an appearance—albeit a brief one—in the novel Down Solo by Earl Javorsky. When private detective Charlie Miner starts asking too many questions about the deed to a Mexican gold mine, vicious thugs kidnap his daughter and spirit her across the border.
Miner follows and rescues his daughter, but to get her back into the United States without a passport, he calls in a favor from a cop named David Putnam. There's a San Diego connection here, too. The character is named after retired police officer David Putnam, who lives in north San Diego County and is the author of a pair of detective novels, The Replacements and The Disposables.
Charlie Miner isn't your everyday private eye. He's a junkie with a heroin habit who wakes up on a slab in the L.A. County morgue. From this unusual premise a classic hardboiled story unfolds as Miner tries to crack the case and solve the mystery of who killed him and why. Then there's the larger mystery of why he's still walking around on two feet after taking a bullet through the eye socket.
"One of the advantages of being dead is that people don't expect you to get up and walk away. I don't imagine it happens often at the morgue, anyway, or they would take precautions against it. Not that I think I'm the first to remain awake through the entire process of dying, or even of one's own murder, perfectly aware of the bullet smacking into my skull, tunneling into my brain, bouncing off bone, and ricocheting around like a bee in a bottle."
Javorsky's dark and gritty prose is leavened with just enough humor to make Down Solo a compelling story that will take readers to the outer limits of noir.