Friday, June 13, 2014

Review of Briarpatch by Ross Thomas (Orion, 1984)

Benjamin Dill works in Washington DC as a consultant to a Senate subcommittee chaired by Joseph Ramirez, a fast rising political star.  On the morning of his birthday he receives a phone call telling him that his sister, a homicide detective has been murdered in their hometown.  He packs a bag and heads home, to an unnamed city to the south and west of the capitol, where Ramirez asks him to take advantage of the trip to record the disposition of his former best friend, Jake Spivey, who made his fortune selling excess military stock at the end of the Vietnam war.  The local police seem baffled by his sister’s murder, but it appears as if she’d been on the take for more than a year.  As Dill prepares for the funeral it’s clear that whatever his sister had got herself wrapped up in had led to her death and one way or another he intends to clear her name even if it means putting his own life at risk.

Briarpatch won an Edgar Award and was re-printed as part of the Orion Crime Masterworks series.  It’s certainly a well crafted book with a strong sense of place (despite the city name never being revealed) and a nicely worked plot.  Thomas’ style is one of relatively thick description providing detailed portraits of each character and the geography and history of the place.  Usually it’s pretty wearisome to know the precise looks and fashions of each character, or the vista of each street, but Thomas manages to make the narrative informative rather than dull.  That said, the characterisation is a little skin deep, and throughout I had the sense that the dead sister would have been a more interesting lead character than her barely grieving brother.  The twin plots of the death of the sister and obtaining the disposition of his former best friend also lull a little in the middle before picking back up again with some nice twists.  Overall, this is an entertaining read that blends crime, corruption and politics into an intriguing mix.

1 comment:

JoyfulA said...

That's one of my favorite books of all time. I've guessed the unnamed city to be Oklahoma City, but that's just a guess.