A noir mystery with touches of science fiction, Derek E. Keeling’s The Umbras reminded me of John Creasey books I read as a young teen, a cross between England’s Palfrey and America’s LA noir perhaps. A private detective in Francis City takes on the case of a beautiful woman searching for her husband’s killer while police insist the death was from natural causes. Scenes are very carefully detailed, with all the sights and smells of the dark underworld from dismal street to smoky police station to frozen morgue. Backstories flesh out the characters. And conversation is languid, redolent with the sound of old movies. There were places where I wondered at the characters’ motivations—how could they not have noticed, not have seen, not have heard… but then the soundtrack plays on and the clues are finally revealed. The city fog matches the fog of confusion as Detective Pierce questions himself, drives frantically away from pursuing vehicles, and wonders if he’s chased by the mythical Umbras or a more prosaic killer. Even as he approaches resolution, threats hide in the shadows. Science, finance and greed all play their part, intermixed with careful investigation to finally reveal the killer. The Umbras is a short novel, a quick read, with lots of detail, complex character backgrounds and enough questions, answered and unanswered, to fuel a series.
Disclosure: I met the author and he gave me a free copy of this novel with no strings attached.