Friday, November 4, 2011

Sound of Blood

This richly satisfying thriller by Lawrence De Maria is not for the reader in a hurry for a quick crime fix. De Maria, a former New York Times journalist who now lives in Florida, wants you to savor New York and Florida in their full glory and seediness as he tells his tale.

There is a murder, a fiendishly clever one, at the outset, and there is suspense as private investigator Jake Scarne tries to unravel the financial and criminal skulduggery behind it. His nemesis is Victor Ballantrae, who shares traits of financier Allen Stanford and Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, though not even the entire family of his client, the father of the murder victim, is on his side. Scarne's biggest problem is Alana Loeb, Ballantrae's second in command and an alluring woman with a mysterious past.

These are not cardboard characters. De Maria fleshes them out with quirks and flaws and endearing characteristics -- even the two psychopathic hit men employed by Ballantrae. The action flows easily from Manhattan to Miami to Antigua as the author glides smoothly from billionaire magnates to homicide detectives to slick financial manipulators and to bona fide mobsters.

De Maria takes us to a Florida we know from John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard, but his Jake Scarne has as much of the hard-bitten Bogie of "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" as he does of the easygoing Travis McGee. Scarne doesn't want to play the sap, either, but the flesh is weak and Alana's allures are often overpowering.

Sound of Blood has many fresh ingredients as well. The author masterfully weaves in financial fraud ripped from the headlines of the past two years. Ballantrae's jack-of-all-trades assassins are a gay couple. There is little room for a happy Hollywood ending as the plot moves with the inexorability of a tragedy toward its climax.

The author savors some things too much. A key golf match between Scarne and Ballantrae skillfully captures the conflict between the two but runs a bit too long for the non-golf aficionado. There are a few too many random characters running in and out of the plot.

But none of this really slows the reader down. With compelling plot and characters and an authority in depicting worlds at once exotic and familiar, De Maria carries us along on a ride that is thrilling and even cathartic as Jake Scarne battles evil that is not found only in fiction.

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