Robert Greer is the writer of the critically acclaimed C.J. Floyd mysteries, and has won many awards for his work. First of State, recently published in October 2010, is a prequel to the C.J. Floyd series, and serves as a fine introduction to an intriguing world of fascinating characters. I haven’t yet read the other books, but I'll certainly look out for them.
The book opens with C.J. Floyd’s return from Vietnam. He comes back to his hometown, to the room where he grew up in his uncle’s home, and to a growing depression fueled by post-traumatic stress. At twenty-two, he has no idea what he’s going to do with his life, living instead a day at a time, following unfocussed impulses and treading carefully in the paths of old dreams.
C.J. used to collect things. Specifically, he used to collect antique license plates, and that urge leads him back to the old G.I. Joe’s pawn store, where he meets World War II veteran Wiley Ames. Wiley’s instant recognition and friendship, coupled with wise advice, offer a ray of light. But soon the safe world of hometown peace has left two corpses lying in the street, and C.J. grapples with single-minded determination to find out what happened.
C.J.’s uncle is the first black bail-bondsman and bounty hunter in the area—successful, wily, and wise. Soon C.J. is working for him, learning the ropes, training his investigative thoughts ‘til they might be called skills, making mistakes, and getting out of scrapes. His friends help him. Strangers either hinder or help. And violence lurks still too close to the surface for comfort as his temper is tested. There’s the murderer of a friend’s son to be found, a cheating salesman putting pressure on another friend’s father, and behind it all, as years begin to pass, there’s C.J.’s longing to solve that first mystery that welcomed him home. If he could just do this, and control his temper, and improve his self-esteem, and feel like he deserved the girl of his dreams…
Dialog and voice are pitch-perfect. The world of the 70s is evocatively drawn. Characters are filled with down-to-earth humor and kindness and common sense. And the plot twists keep C.J. and reader guessing right to the end. First of State is an intriguing character-driven mystery with a fascinating view of post-Vietnam America, curious insights on the worlds of flea-market and bail, and richly drawn settings in an African American neighborhood of 1970s Denver.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing and Publicity LLC in exchange for an unbiased review.