Thou Shalt Not Kill
There are a lot of rules in life. And maybe more in death. Every day you read about it, but some people live it, or don’t quite—on the mean streets driving-by or the even rougher roads their life travels. Still others bask in it in a world where fame and notoriety are inseparable. “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me” isn’t a bad first commandment handed down on stone tablets, but in a world rife with racism, religious discrimination, and celebrity worship wherein privileged elite superstars, athletes and politicians are gods unto themselves, it makes for strange stone idols and even stranger bedfellows.
Take the two Californias, both with the glamour, glitz and self-centered grandeur of Silicon Valley and Hollywood and both possibly as detached from reality, depraved from fame and fortune, and demanding from the need to be in the spotlight 24/7. They are the ultimate first—and last—responders, presumed better than the rest. They can never rest, never lay down, except to die. There is no presumed innocence, only feigned ignorance masquerading as tolerance. And while not every novel can pretend be a Maltese Falcon or To Kill a Mockingbird, some can still try on a dark and gloomy night on a dark and gloomy planet.
Murder Served Up Noir-Style: Twice Told Tales
Private eyes hunting down criminals is a perennial plot favorite of readers. Veteran author Dick Yaeger launches his newest novel First Commandment, the first in a series of Hunter Quinn mysteries, set in Silicon Valley’s capital city, San Jose.
Reminiscent of Nobody Dies in Hollywood by renowned screenwriter and producer John Wilder, Yaeger’s quick-moving story taps into the current-day horror of school shootings. A grieving client shows up at Quinn’s office, frustrated by the slow pace of the local police department to identify and track down the killer of his granddaughter and six other children at the First Commandment School. When a second school is targeted, Quinn steps up the pace with good old-fashioned undercover work and a heavy dose of in-your-face danger.
The short novel packs a punch, unraveling a scheme of immigration exploitation wrapped around the explosive debate over gun control and spiced with just the right amount of unsavory political favors. Yeager’s action scenes keep you hooked, and his characters will win you over—especially if you enjoy smooth bourbon and cigars.
What is great about this genre is the anticipation of getting to know the characters in future installments. Wilder was known for the TV adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser for Hire, and was inspired by Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe mysteries. Yaeger’s novel also leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction that the good guys can win, though at a cost. Hopefully future novels in the series will reveal even more details about what shaped Hunter Quinn’s moral compass, professional wins, and personal choices.
Ultimately, what makes this a standout is the relevance of the subject. Who can’t relate to grief-stricken families of innocent children? Or frustration with the wheels of justice in today’s world of instantaneous proclamations of guilt—and then innocence—and then guilt again? Yaeger wields a deft hand bringing the issues to light, but leaves readers to grapple with the moral choices of the characters in their own terms.
Exactly the kind of critical thinking and gritty realism that used to be part of our TV and movie entertainment fare, replaced by fantasies, special effects, and talking heads. Perhaps it will be enough to bring readers coming back in droves. I hope so.
“And in case you missed it…here’s my earlier review of Wilder’s Nobody Dies…”
Both timely and timeless, John Wilder shares not just his years of experience pairing the best dramatic stories with the most compelling characters, he shares a tiny piece of his soul, too. Private Investigator Michael Drayton has a past that tugs at your heartstrings and a present that dares you to come along for the dangerous ride.
Wilder takes you on a journey reminiscent of the days immediately following the infamous Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman double homicide in Los Angeles, offering insights only a Hollywood insider would notice. It certainly made me wonder–has anything changed in the intervening decades? Wilder forces his characters and the reader to confront continuing racism, question the value of today’s celebrity worship, and cringe at the cruel realities accompanying an industry where only the best–or toughest–survive.
John Wilder’s own long career is testament to the fact that he knows exactly what it takes to make it in Hollywood. Yet his moral compass shines through every step of the way, offering tough love and advice for what it takes to be a man, a son, a father–a human.
I, for one, am grateful he took the time and energy to share his wisdom and perspective on this uniquely American sub-culture, and hope he continues the series. If you’re ever looking for a perfect book to give your father, grandfather, husband, or son, this is the one to choose.