Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review of The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle (Dell, 2006)

Matthew Worth has been busted down to patrolling a supermarket to deter robbery and he’s lost his wife to a homicide detective. He comes from a long line of cops, but he’s hardly holding up the family name. What’s more he seems to be falling for Gwen, one of the checkout workers. When she turns up at work a physical and emotional wreck, Worth decides to investigate. At her apartment he finds her boyfriend bludgeoned to death. Instead of calling it in, he decides to help her by covering up the death. But Gwen’s boyfriend works for a minor mobster and his disappearance attracts the attention of others, including a couple of crooked cops. What seemed like a straightforward cleanup has become a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

The Cleanup is a very competent screwball noir that is very tightly plotted. The story rattles along with plenty of twists and turns. Worth and Gwen are nicely penned, surrounded by a set of somewhat stereotypical characters. The book has all the ingredients to be a five star read, but for some reason it just didn’t quite click that way for me. I think part of the problem was it all felt a little bit done by numbers – everything fitted together too neatly and slickly – and it lacked some darkly comic turns that would have given the narrative an added lift. Also, I never really felt I was rooting for the main characters, they’re just too ordinary and plain, and Worth’s motivations are perhaps too fuzzy. There were also a couple of questions at the end that needed some elaboration. This probably sounds more negative than the book deserves. This is an enjoyable, well plotted read, it just needed a little added something to make it an exceptional one.

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