A Lonesome Blood-Red Sun, a review by Joanna

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A Lonesome Blood-Red Sun

David Putnam

334 pages

Oceanview Publishing

Published on October 17th 2023

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A Lonesome Blood-Red Sun is the second book in a planned trilogy about Dave Beckett, the “Bone Dick”, a homicide detective charged with investigating cold cases from the bones uncovered in Southern California‘a harsh Mojave desert. I’ve read and loved several of the author’s Bruno Johnson books, and A Fearsome Moonlight Black – the first in this trilogy – was one of my Top 5 books of 2022. It’s helpful but not essential to have read that one – if I’d had more time I would’ve reread it, just to remind me of the background, but this is a complete story that more or less stands alone. The books are based on Putnam’s real life experiences of working in law enforcement, which brings a gritty realism to his descriptions and a sobering reminder of the toll the job takes on its servants.

Beginning in 1984, this has rookie sheriffs deputy Beckett, now divorced and living with his ex-con father, battling his disregard for the rules and tendency to mouth off to all and sundry with his desire to hunt down criminals, no matter what it takes, and be promoted to the homicide division. His friend and partner is struggling after being first on scene at a tragedy involving their colleagues, they are both being persecuted by one of the senior officers, and then Beckett is drawn to Jimmie Poe, another young deputy. Then the story jumps forward four years, with Beckett now working alone, still mourning, but now more experienced and with it more headstrong and impulsive. When a leg bone found in the desert turns out to be someone he was close to, he will stop at nothing to find their killer.
I didn’t love this one as much as the last, partly due to the pacing – this felt like a series of anecdotes which only come together quite late on, and partly due to the overly irreverent attitude of the hero and his wilful disobedience almost just for the sake of it. His hypocrisy in arresting someone he doesn’t like for drink driving, at the risk of threatening his colleagues’ careers, when he cynically helped his friend get away with the same offence, didn’t endear him to me, although he justifies it to himself. There’s a lot of police procedure which could be confusing when you don’t understand the American system (I should, I’ve read enough thrillers featuring Californian detectives, but they all tend to assume that readers just know the reasons for it.) The afterword explains which elements were based on real events.
The standout feature of these books is the writing – Putnam has a piercing way with words far superior to most crime writers: “Law enforcement years were like dog years. You experienced life seven times faster, saw the world unfettered in all its soiled glory. A world where moral decay and violence rules and the good of heart are trod upon.” You really feel the world weary cynicism of someone trying hard to do what is right in a system governed by politics and money, and stay sane and human, when most of the people you’re dealing with are long past either.
“The expression, one of shock, one that said life as we knew it no longer applied to either one of them. That murder and tragedy both have rotten, black hearts that stink to high heaven and forever, indelibly imprint the memory of those who survive. If surviving was what you called it.”
I liked the way the different mysteries were resolved, and the story completed while leaving some storylines open for the final book, which I’ll be on the lookout for next year. Thanks to NetGalley and Level Best Books for the ARC.

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