In his second Jackson Donne mystery, the author steeps his protagonist in a brew of antagonism, regret and violence, the past rising up to poison the future. A former ex-cop who bucked the system is now a former P.I. as well, currently drowning his sorrows at a local bar with no future expectations save nightly oblivion.
Then Donne is contacted by his estranged sister, Susan. Their mother, in the last stages of Alzheimerís, has lately been agitated, troubled by recurring memories of her fatherís past, repeating over and over that everything is her fatherís fault. Demanding that Jackson help determine the cause of Isabelleís agitation and make peace with their mother before she dies, Susan is relentless until Donne agrees.
The mystery runs on two tracks: the immediacy of Isabelleís anxiety and the implied threat when Susanís husbandís restaurant is destroyed by fire; and the original crime that steps from 1938 to destroy Isabelleís final days. Isabelleís father, Joe Tenant, is witness to a murder.
In alternating chapters, Donne faces the wreckage of a past he never knew about, and Tenant deals with the killerís threat to his family and his efforts to thwart that danger, working through the characters and motives that ultimately cause Tenant to lose his wife and daughter. Tenant is tenacious, unwilling to allow his family to be further damaged.
More serious problems arise later, when a daughter can find no respite on her deathbed and her son reluctantly admits that the restaurant fire and the current violence against him and his extended family is related to that incident in 1938. Bullets flying, people dying all around him, and an immediate menace to his well-being are only symptoms of a pathology that has seriously impacted Donneís family.
There is plenty of violence, blood and gore to fill the final pages of this thriller. My only issue is that this young author is considered a pro in the noir genre. Tough-talking and bad attitudes are in abundance, but one critical aspect is missing: the utterly world-weary cynicism of true noir, the having-seen-it-all-and-lived-to-tell ambience of a violent world that will always disappoint and never reward, even if the good guys occasionally win. This jaded perspective perhaps only comes with experience, the weight of years accruing to yield the necessary discontent.
Other than the noir label, White handles his characters with a balance of emotional tension and action that drives this novel from the critical incident to a conflagration that leaves the survivors stunned. Jackson Donne may finally be awakened to the potential in a nearly burned-out existence.