Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Brian Freeman – No Sophomore Slump with “STRIPPED”

Last year I wrote in glowing terms about the inaugural novel by Brian Freeman – a work entitled “Immoral” that has gone on to win the Macavity Award for Best First Novel at the Bouchercon mystery festival this past weekend.


As I predicted a year ago, Brian has been heard from again – and he does not disappoint. Compelling protagonists, Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial, return to anchor the action in "STRIPPED." In this new work, just released in the bookstores today, Jonathan has just made a major move – a move with geographic, career and relational components – to join Serena as a detective with the Las Vegas Police force. Coming from the hinterlands of Duluth, Minnesota, Stride is viewed with suspicion and scorn by the case hardened Las Vegas veterans. He is paired with a partner no one else wants to work with – because the partner, Amanda Gillen – has an unusual past. I will let Brian Freeman explain it in his own words:

“Stride leaned against the machine and impatiently shoved his hands in his pockets. He leaned down to Amanda. ‘So, how did you get stuck with me?’

Amanda took her eyes off the slot reels and gave him a suspicious look. ‘Excuse me?’

‘The lieutenant thinks I should be back in Minnesota shoveling snow,’ Stride said. ‘You must have pissed him off to get stuck with a newbies like me who’s on Sawhill’s shit list.’

Stride knew that Sawhill was just angry at the world. He used to get that way himself sometimes when he was a lieutenant, during those stretches when everything that could go wrong did. Sawhill had lost his favorite detective when the man won the Megabucks jackpot and retired instantly, eight million dollars richer. Then Serena went over Sawhill’s head to the sheriff to plug Stride, an experienced homicide investigator who just happened to be in town, available, bored, doing nothing but letting the city get on his nerves. And so Sawhill found himself with Stride crammed down his throat, and he had made it a point to make sure Stride knew that the lieutenant didn’t think he was up to the task of big-city crime.

‘Oh, now I get it,’ Amanda said, half to herself. ‘I was wondering what you did to get stuck with me. Now that makes sense. Sawhill has it in for you.’

Stride shrugged. ‘I like you fine. You seem smart. You’re something to look at, too. Seems like he’s doing me a favor.’

‘Not hardly,’ Amanda told him.

‘Want to fill me in?’

Amanda took a long look at him. ‘You really don’t know, do you? Serena didn’t tell you?’

‘I guess not.’

‘You’re not just playing dumb-ass games with me?’

‘I haven’t been in the city long enough to play games,’ Stride said.

Amanda laughed long and deep. ‘Oh, that’s good. That’s really good.’

‘Are you going to let me in on the joke?’

‘I’m a non-op,’ Amanda said.

‘What’s that?’ Stride asked, genuinely confused.

‘I’m a transsexual.’” (Pages 20-21)

And so Freeman sets the scene for a story that is a murder mystery woven within a web of characters and relationships that make the phrase “non-traditional” seem woefully inadequate. He places Detective Stride in a situation of perpetual tension – drawn to two opposing magnetic poles – Duluth and Las Vegas. Part of his heart remains on the shores of Lake Superior, but his love for Serena forces him to accommodate himself to a home and a new career in the hot desert town that has not offered him a very warm or welcoming reception.

A series of murders – some current and another twenty years in the past – provide the backdrop for a rollicking ride through the back alleys, gated communities, casinos and haunts that make Las Vegas such a fascinating and dystopian metropolis. Before he is through with weaving his tale, Freeman introduces the reader to the worlds of organized crime, schlocky entertainers, and law enforcement. “STRIPPED” gives us a look at humanity as seen through a series of distorting funhouse mirrors. Throw in a few isosceles love triangles along the way, and you have a story that is engaging and entertaining.

Brian Freeman has already completed work on a third novel featurring Stride and Serena Dial. I can’t wait to read it. I get the impression that Freeman loves what he is doing, and truly cares about the motley cast of characters he has created. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did.


No comments: