Nightlines by John Lutz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The twin of a murdered woman hires Nudger to track down her murderer, a possible serial killer. But why is her mother trying to keep Nudger from his investigation?
Nightlines is a pretty good crime/mystery story. While part of it is solvable by the reader, it still caught napping. Parts of it are hilariously dated. The plot hinges on people using phone company service lines to hook up with strangers. Nudger uses a payphone several times. I can't talk that much about the plot without spoiling too much of it. It's a fairly standard "catch the killer before he kills again" plot but with some added wrinkles and a couple twists at the end.
There are a couple aspects of the book I enjoyed immensely. Primarily, the character of Nudger is what sold the book for me. Nudger's not your typical detective. His office is above a donut shop. He's lonely and scared a lot of the time. He doesn't carry a gun. He chews antacid tablets constantly. He throws up at crime scenes. And he's not the guy the bombshells go for. He's got so little going for him that I wanted to buy him a beer or give him a hug. His relationship with Claudia was really touching and believably done.
The other part of the book I really dug is that John Lutz is on his way to making St. Louis as much a character in the book as New York is in Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series. When Nudger complains about the traffic on 270 or talks about taking 44 to 55 and getting off on Memorial, it makes me smile. I'm not even that familiar with St. Louis and I recognized a lot of the places Nudger goes on his investigation. At one point, Nudger was on Kingshighway and I kept hoping he'd stop at Uncle Bill's Pancake House for lunch.
I've mentioned Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder in connection with Nudger a few times. They have a lot of similarities, both coming from tragic pasts, but I think Nudger may be a bit easier to relate to. If they were both stray dogs, Matthew Scudder would be the one you're afraid to pet while Nudger would be the one that's had the shit kicked out of it too many times and you feel sorry for it and give it the rest of your ham sandwich.
If you're looking for good detective yarn, Nudger's got what you need. Just don't expect him to be a superhero. He's more like the guy you let crash on your couch.
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