In the world of reading, one of my first loves was the work of Mickey Spillane. Sure, I was young, naïve, and maybe only a bit too impressionable, so it was easy to love that tough guy personae as it played out in a world heavily populated by guys who thought they were tougher. I, THE JURY was my first experience, and, after that, I scarfed up every other one I could get my grubby li’l mits on. Mind you, this was well before the advent of electronic publishing or even second-hand bookstores, so the literary adventures of Mike Hammer, Tiger Mann, or even his comic book hero Mike Danger. Since they were pretty hard to come by, I can remember taking time and effort to slowly appreciate everything trapped within those pages; and, even if my wife tells me I’ll never be as tough as Spillane, I still live every day trying to do justice to his mastery.
Naturally, a book like INNOCENCE KILLS comes along, I’m gonna sit up and take notice. If you knew what was good for you, you would, too.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Paul Murdock is a man who came back from Vietnam really only changed from the waist down. Tough as nails and still smarter than your average bear, he spends his days taking care of the kind of business lesser men only dream about, never allowing the fact that he’s in a wheelchair affect the way he lives his life any more than it could, would, or should. As part of a retainer to a local law firm but against his better wishes, Murdock agrees to head out to prison in order to hear what convicted crime lord Leo Grimaldi has to say: it turns out the former mob chieftain turned informant has stashed away a set of discs containing even more incriminating information, and the man wants the private investigator to merely go and pick them up.
Ah, if only it were that easy …
Suddenly, Murdock finds himself swept up into a series of criminal conspiracies in INNOCENCE KILLS, the latest Paul Murdock thriller penned by Michael P. Murphy. It’s a tightly-woven tale involving some past indulgences; thus, the title INNOCENCE KILLS (it refers to a line of dialogue in the work) harkens back to those works of Spillane, Richard Stark’s PARKER novels, and Max Allan Collins’ ubiquitous QUARRY books. In them, there’s a heavy price to be paid by those who go into any business without realizing the true risks, and that price is generally extracted in life and limb. Truer words were never spoken. Similarly, there are a handful of subplots that work into the main story – Murdock’s in love, and he’s trying hard to make it work; there’s another young convict imprisoned who may just be innocent; and a young investor who has taken it on-the-lamb needs our hero’s help to clean up his mess. It’s clear author Murphy knows his genre (and his audience) well enough to tie all of these loose ends up in a suitably big finish.
As is always the case with other detective and/or similar tales, Murdock uncovers enemies and allies in some of the most unlikely places, but that’s the stuffing of what makes hard-boiled prose such a wonderful confection: only he knows what’s best for those around him, so when he fails he takes the steps necessary to put things right. As Raymond Chandler – the genius most often credited with inventing the contemporary detective novel – said it best, our lead is a knight in shining armor, but his armor’s long ago grown a layer of rust due to our character’s jaded leanings. Murdock is sometimes wry, sometimes flippant, but he’ll always get his man. Otherwise, what would be the point of it all?
Murphy’s writing style is solid throughout the novel. With some vivid flourishes, he’s constantly telling readers something about these peoples, these places, or their relative pasts in order to bring them to life, to lift them off the page and firmly plant them in some shade of reality. For my tastes, there were a few passages that could’ve used a trim, but that’s only a stylistic observation and not one that speaks to the quality of the work. I think the writer knows when he needs to be ‘lean,’ and he uses his skills to build this world to terrific effect. In fact, there were a few times that I had to remind myself that his main player – Paul Murdock – was crippled (Murphy’s choice of words, decidedly against the current P.C.-speak, which even he clarifies Murdock doesn’t tolerate); the detective never allows his ‘disability’ (a word I’ve never quite understood) stand in the way of getting a job done … or beating down a perp.
Lastly, I came across a handful of small typographical errors, most of them confined to the novel’s preface. In a sequence involving a stiletto, I suspect it may’ve been a SpellCheck that turned the word a few times to “stilled.” Minor gaffe, but it’s in there a few times. Just thought I’d mention it. I know Murdock would approve.
INNOCENCE KILLS (A PAUL MURDOCK NOVEL) is an ebook written by Michael P. Murphy. It is presently available for the price of $2.99, and that’s a bargain so far as this reviewer is concerned.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. As private detective novels go, INNOCENCE KILLS might be a bit formulaic at times, but I found it nicely balanced by the fact that our lead – Paul Murdock – wasn’t your run-of-the-mill wiseacre only posing as a hero until somebody else came along. He’s a man’s man – much like the kind who’d be happy to toss one back at the bar with Mike Hammer. Or Sam Spade. Or maybe even Lew Archer. Hell, he’d probably beat ‘em at arm wrestling right after and then make ‘em pick up the tab.