Wednesday, November 27, 2013
J.R. Rain's SILENT ECHO
Silent Echo is probably going to be marketed as mystery or crime fiction; I gather the other, J.R. Rain, is somewhat an established name in those genres, at any rate, and there is a mystery plot forming the novel's narrative backbone, but really, the mystery is the least interesting thing about the book.
The private eye tracking the killer - who turns out to be something of a serial killer, with signatures and weird motivations and the will to play games with the people trying to catch him and all -- is dying, you see. Of AIDS-related lung cancer. And it's not just a someday sort of dying; as the novel opens, Jimmy Booker has already lived two months beyond his prognosis, and is struggling every day to do basic things like get out of bed. Fortunately -- and this is where Silent Echo really stands out -- he has an amazing, selfless, generous and wise friend to help him through everything.
Numi, a Nigerian artist who has transplanted himself to Los Angeles and met Jimmy many years ago while Jimmy was investigating a case, skirts the "magical negro" trope for the most part, though he has moments. What saves him from just being one is the degree to which he has devoted himself to keeping his friend Jimmy alive; he's not a guru, not an impassive dispenser of wisdom, nor is he merely a helpmeet, though he is that as well. He is a kind and loving friend, who lets Jimmy occasionally act like a selfish jerk, calls him on it only very gently, helps Jimmy with even the most intimate of tasks, and has become the benevolent dictator governing who, in Jimmy's last days, gets to bother him.
A childhood friend of Jimmy's makes the cut, and that's where the murder mystery comes in; Jimmy's specialty is missing persons, and Eddie's wife (a sort of unlit old flame of Jimmy's as well) is missing, under circumstances that echo the missing persons case that started it all for Jimmy back when he was a teenager: the disappearance and murder of Jimmy's kid brother.
The plot, in other words, is dead simple, even a tad predictable, even given the twist of this being the detective's last ever case and one he can't investigate without an extraordinary amount of help. But this book is not to be read for the plot, it's to be read for the relationships, for the honesty and regret and bitterness and extraordinary (platonic) love and the chillingly plausible descriptions of what it feels like to be facing the very end of life, how a person's outlook and priorities change and how one real friend can make all the difference.
Quite a nice little read.