Sound of Blood

  • Lawrence De Maria
  • CreateSpace
  • 480 pp.

This adventure mystery delivers all the ingredients that make for a great read, as a private eye investigates the death of dead reporter in Florida.

Reviewed by Phil Harvey

Sound of Blood is a rollicking good adventure mystery with all the essential ingredients: an intrepid private eye, bizarre murders, international intrigue, missing documents, gorgeous women and slippery financial dealings. If events in this story occasionally go a little over the top, we ride along cheerfully because the action flows smoothly and the writing is skillful.

Protagonist Jake Scarne is hired to investigate the death of Josh Shields, a young reporter in Florida, whose father believes he was murdered. The death appears to have been accidental ― or a suicide, and that is how the police treat it. Scarne himself is skeptical about the case (perhaps it was suicide), but as he uncovers more details, his suspicions about the killing grow.

Shields had been working on an exposé of the Ballantrae firm, a financial conglomerate with branches in places like Jamaica and Switzerland. Kingpin Victor Ballantrae, often accused of misusing his client’s money and otherwise skirting the law, has so far had nothing criminal proved against him. We know that Shields had collected information that could blow the lid off the Ballantrae firm, but (of course!) all of the reporter’s notes and files have mysteriously disappeared.

Scarne meets his villainic foil, Victor Ballantrae, and his beautiful associate, Alana.  The three of them play a memorable round of golf (all are experts), which reveals much about their characters and relationships. As the story hurtles along there are more killings, a satisfying dose of sex and some odd but chilling behavior by several hagfish, eel-like creatures that produces copious amounts of slime. Keeping track of all the threads in the complicated plot requires attention, but eventually everything gets tied together.

For those who enjoy dialog of the jocular irony-exaggeration genre, De Maria is a master. This style always skirts close to the edge of the valley of clichés, but it’s satisfying when well tuned. Here’s an example:

“Her name is Nancy Lopez,” Condon said without preamble when he called back. “You can skip the golf jokes. Take down this number.” He gave it. “I had to speak to the detective personally to pry it out of him. He figured it was you who was asking. Don’t think I’ve ever come that close to being told to go fuck myself by a second-grade. Guy has balls. I like that. Thinks you’re an asshole. Another plus in his favor. Anything else you need? Luckily, I don’t have much to do as commissioner.”

“Thanks, Dick. I owe you.”

“Yes, you do. Although you may not be able to repay me anytime soon. Randolph Shields wants your head on a platter. He went to our mutual friend on the City Council. I’d lay low. Maybe leave town for a while.

“I’m, heading to Miami.”

“That’s still in this hemisphere. Try harder.”

Weak spots? Events and characterizations that overstrain our credulity can detract from the enjoyment of even the best of plots. That happens occasionally in Sound of Blood. An insurance scam that involves “euthanizing old people for profit” is, shall we say, unlikely in its execution. Gigantic Bobo, the bodyguard, glorifies brute strength a little childishly. (Bobo never lost at arm wrestling; “Just the weight of his arm was enough half the time.”) Josh Shields’ sister gives an embarrassingly saccharine classroom lecture on the glories of America. All bankers are thieves. One drop-dead gorgeous woman is so sexually insatiable we begin to worry about bed burns. And, as seems to happen often in books of this genre, the characters seem impervious to the effects of alcohol. Cocktails are followed by wine followed by brandy at working lunches where everyone remains quite sober. One character is still standing (unfortunately for his safety, as it turns out) and conversing coherently after nine martinis.

But never mind. We read books like this to have a fast ride in another world, where lots of bad things happen to new and believable characters, where the good guys, though badly flawed, win out, and the villains get what’s coming to them. Sound of Blood delivers.

Phil Harvey’s short stories have appeared in 15 publications. His first novel, Show Time, was published this year.

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