Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
Author: Mike Nettleton
Author: Mike Nettleton
A raw portrait of the best and the worst the Southwest has to offer, this tale of a down-on-his-luck PI trying to prove his ex-wife is innocent of a violent and sexually explicit murder is like straight shots of tequila taken as a cure for a hangover between the rounds of your very own ultimate boxing match. Your adrenalin will run high if you’re a reader—as a reviewer, I could only admire the craftsmanship. I highly recommend this book (I read the eBook version, which is a bargain compared to the trade paperback and it saves trees).
Previously I reviewed The Big Grabowski and its sequel Sometimes A Great Commotion, two hilarious mysteries Mike wrote with author-wife Carolyn J. Rose. There is a touch of humor in Shotgun Start too, but there is also an underlying current about the serious questions of relationships and what it means to be happy. Moreover, in some sense, this is a memoir about the author’s time in New Mexico. The description of life there was too personal—I was constantly telling myself that. I find it hard to page around in eBooks, so I read Mike’s note at the end of the book only after I finished. It confirmed my suspicions. The discerning reader will also pick up on this.
I had two negative experiences with Albuquerque on one of my trips from the West Coast to school, this time in the Midwest. The first was that the seatbelt warning alarm stuck on my little Fiat 128. I was ready to check into a mental ward by the time I reached a Fiat dealer in that New Mexico city. The second was that I was dropping my mother off in Kansas City. She came down with pleurisy sleeping under an air conditioner in a cheap motel room in Albuquerque. Other than that, I found the people affable and the food and drink just about right. I didn’t see that seamy side of Southwest life that Mike writes about in such a personal fashion (just a few choice Spanish swear words exchanged with a rabioso Fiat mechanic).
Nevertheless, this tale also stands alone as an excellent PI mystery. Neal Egan, ex-cop, golf hustler, and irascible PI who builds cases against cheating spouses, is faced with increasingly high hurdles to jump over in his quest to prove his ex is innocent. It becomes more difficult when a snuff film from a porn site shows the ex committing the murder. The plot has some exciting and interesting twists and turns and quirky and interesting characters abound, including meth-manufacturing bikers, techie wizards (unlike Harry Potter, no wands needed), gangsters from the Albuquerque underbelly, sexy but dangerous women, sharky lawyers, and a plethora of cops and Feds.
The ex leaves our hero for an ex-Hollywood actor turned porn star who becomes the victim in the snuff film. The PI and a friend share an old dance hall, half her art studio—she’s a serious artist, albeit whacky too—the other half his new bachelor pad. Pay attention to their cat and the pool table, since they both play an important role. The final female Egan is off-again-on-again serious about is a bartending femme fatale. These three women have played, play, and will play important roles in Egan’s life as the plot unfolds. They are all likable and they are all flawed.
Egan is a jerk, cad, and misfit. I had a hard time identifying with him. Since the author writes 95% of the book in the first person, the reader really gets into this PI’s mind. My being him often made me wish for an appointment with a good therapist. However, Egan is trying to find himself. It’s just that he gets in his own way, fighting a bad temper and often confusing love and sex as well as right and wrong. At the beginning, he not only is not over his ex, he has a bad relationship with his brother and mother. He can’t make a decision about his roomie (in his defense, she can’t make one about him either) and succumbs too easily to the wiles of the bartender.
Golf plays a role in this book, including the title. I was reminded of one of Harlan Coben’s Martin Bolitar books Back Spin, where the game also plays an important role (Coben is not a golfer, Nettleton is). In Shotgun Start, though, the game just provides a setting for the hustler schemes of our hero—he could have just as well been betting on horses or covering spreads in basketball games. One thing I will give him, though, is that he stays away from drugs, something hard to do in his sleazy life where drugs seem to be all around him. “Sleazy” refers more to his obsessions with drink and women—his roomie calls him Slick many times in the book and the name is appropriate.
Speaking of slick, there will be words here that will send readers to the dictionary, although they can ferret out the meaning via context. Among ten or so (I’m a fluent Spanish speaker, so I won’t count those, although you won’t find all of them taught in high school classes or used in polite society), I noted “schmeggy” and “orts” because I really liked their sound (although I now regret looking up the more clinical term schmeggy). But don’t get the idea that Shotgun Start is erudite or smart urban porn. It’s more akin to some of Robert Parker’s Spenser novels. The dialog sparkles and the way characters speak matches them well.
All the characters are well drawn, although some stereotypes are present. My favorite character is the roomie. She doesn’t take crap from Egan, telling him where to stick it on a number of occasions, and her language is far from erudite. She also could be a modern artist whose works I might like—something that doesn’t happen often in real life (Obregon came to mind). I easily got beyond the stereotypes (the computer nerd, the advertising geek, etc) since there is often some truth to them (that’s why they’re used, of course). Even the cat is a stereotype—I’ve known much nicer ones that don’t fit the author’s stereotype at all.
Unless you’re squeamish
or prudish, you’ll enjoy this book. Correction: you might be so
hooked on Stephanie Meyers that you need your fix of vampires and
werewolves. Otherwise, read and wallow in the slimy fun. Shotgun
Start is a fast-paced action mystery that rarely has a dull moment.
It’s hot and spicy at times, just like Southwest cooking, but
you’ll enjoy the burn as you devour this book. Even read it with
some copitas of tequila accompanied by salsa picante and chips.
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