Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey

Initially, I thought author Richard Yancey had an almost literary way with a murder mystery. His main character, Theodore Ruzak, is a sensitive fellow given to long, rambling inner monologues. For the first three or four chapters, I was smitten--particularly since the story takes place in my own stomping grounds of Knoxville, Tennessee.

But as the book progressed and nothing much happened, I became more and more irritated with Mr. Yancey and his nattering Teddy Ruzak. Ruzak pretty much does nothing but eat doughnuts and think. This could be endearing in the right story, but a murder mystery is not the right story in which to focus on the self-absorbed thoughts of a loser.

When Ruzak's mother dies and leaves him a little money, he quits his job as a security guard and sets up shop as a private detective. He does everything on impulse, including hiring his favorite waitress as a secretary. He doesn't even have an investigator's license. Again, this sort of half-assed behavior started out amusing and soon became annoying beyond belief. Ruzak doesn't do anything. He puts things off, especially the difficult things. His first--and essentially only--case is to find out who ran over six baby geese. He doesn't even go out to look at the scene of the crime for weeks, at which point I wanted to smack him around a little.

It's not until about halfway through the book that it's even clear there's been a murder, and that it maybe-maybe not relates to the dead goslings. The plot, frankly, is a hot mess, made worse because Yancey doesn't play fair with the clues. Half the fun of reading a mystery is following along with the sleuth, trying to figure out what's going on. Yancey doesn't let us in on any of the clues--we don't even get details on who's being murdered. And despite Ruzak's obsession with moral ethics, he sure is fast to dump his ethics entirely when presented with a threat and a bribe--even when he could have solved both problems with one phone call. Instead, he calls for pizza.

At that point, I was ready to just throw the book down in disgust. Even the amusement factor of seeing familiar placenames in print got old after a while. I only finished the book because I was so close to the end. This may not be the worst book I've read this year--Yancey's prose approaches literary cleverness, even if his characters are unlikeable and his plot lame--but it's sure right down at the bottom of the pile.

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