In His Shadow by Dave Zeltserman (2002)
Johnny Lane is a Denver's most famous private eye, in part because of his monthly column in the Denver Examiner, "Fast Lane," which pulls its subject matter from Lanes' case files. Two decades earlier, Lane had risen to fame because of newspaper headines proclaiming MAN GONE BESERK SHOT TO DEATH BY HERO DETECTIVE. Suddenly, Johnny Lane's services were in demand and the demand kept growing and growing.
Two of Lane's latest cases are keeping him busy. In the first, he is hired to find Debra Singer, a sixteen-year-old runaway who Lane finds working in an adult sex club. He discovers that Debra's father had been sexually abusing her for years, and Lane is torn about returning her to that home.
The other case involves Mary Williams, a young college student determined to find her birth parents. The Williams's, her adoptive parents don't approve of Mary's search but are willing to support it. For reasons he can't fully understand, Lane offers his services to Mary at a large discount with no expenses. The trail leads to a lawyer in Oklahoma City who has been dead for fifteen years. Lane keeps digging and uncovers family secrets and bodies begin to pile up.
I won't go any further into the plot except to note that Zeltserman dedicated this -- his first book -- to the memory of Jim Thompson, one of America's greatest noir writers. And no wonder. You can almost hear Thompson whispering in Zeltserman's ear when he wrote this.
In His Shadow is a brutal novel, fast-paced and twisting like a rattlesnake. But it is also a first novel, written by a hand that would become far more sure and secure as displayed by his later books. There are flaws here, but there is also powerful writing.
Dave Zeltersman is now justly recognized as one of the best crime writers in the business. Zeltserman revisited and revised the book in 2004 under the title Fast Lane. I haven't read the revised version, but after seeing the leaps and bounds Zeltserman has made in his career, I can't wait to.
For more of today's Forgotten Books, go to Patti Abbott's blog pattinase.