Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dark Quarry: A Mike Angel Private Eye Mystery / David H Fears

Reviewed by: SpinsBySpin

Genre: Mystery

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words


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David H Fears refers to himself as "a westerner who has lived in various parts of the country", and is a self-confessed admirer of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. He is currently working on an annotated chronology of the life of Mark Twain. He has published all his "hardboiled private eye detective novels" as ebooks. There are currently four Mike Angel books available, as well as eight other fiction offerings.


Meet Mike Angel, unwillingly AKA as Mike D'Angelo, hard-boiled tough guy working as a Private Investigator in the early 1960's. Six years as a PI found him frustrated, bored with chasing insurance cheats and looking for thrills. Enter Kimbra, beautiful and a victim of abuse. Exit her husband, by way of a single gunshot from a .22. Mike now finds himself on the wrong side of the law as he covers up the shooting. Travel with Mike from New Jersey to New York to Chicago as he looks for elusive connections to the long-defunct Purple Gang, loses Kimbra, almost loses himself, and finds her again as he searches for those responsible for his father's murder.


If you are going to write hard boiled crime fiction, you need the formula, which Dark Quarry delivers in spades: beautiful, sexy women, really nasty bad guys and lots of action. However, Dark Quarry reads as though it is one short story after another, with the only apparent connection between them the protagonist, Mike Angel, mentions of Kimbra, and a series of beautiful, desperate, and devious women. More than once while reading this book, I found myself wondering what connection there was in the action from one situation to another.

In Act One, we meet Kimbra, "a flashy babe with innocent lips masking lust and danger." This is the tried and true smoking gun - Mike walks in just as Kimbra shot her husband Joe Ambler. Impulsively, Mike takes over and whisks Kimbra, corpse and gun out, thus stepping over the legal line, putting his PI license on the line for this temptress. Once the body has been disposed of, however, Mike forced her to divulge connections between the now deceased Joe and ancient members of the Purple Gang. Kimbra plays Mike for a sucker and runs off with his client and good friend, Ed Bergman.

Act Two

Enter Haley, married and on the make - for Mike. And married to Bergman. It is here that the dialogue and tone starts to feel a little forced, like Mike has to continually prove that he is the ultimate tough guy, and there is no heart of gold anywhere in the picture. Kimbra shows up, threatens Mike, and he tells her with "gravel in my voice. 'You didn't really think I'd be that stupid . . You're pretty smooth--and you almost fooled me with that act in the car about Joe forcing you to do bad things, Now I figure it was you forcing him. You're the kind of dame who thrives on doing bad things, then blaming others. I bet you've had plenty of rehearsals doing bad things. Bergman for one--what are your bad plans for him?"

Act Three

Exit Kimbra. Exit Ed Bergman. Enter Haley, Ed's wife and the next in a long line of sexy, hot women. Only, now Haley has the hots for Mike, and Mike turns her down cold. I'm not sure if Lt. Rick Anthony, friend, detective and wordsmith, is introduced as comic relief from Mike's at times heavy handed "tough guy" persona. By contrast, he comes across as - well, see for yourself. Mike calls Rick for a "small" favor; Rick responds with "They're always infinitesmal [sic] to you, Bud, but I shall endeavor to retain my high position in your esteem". Now I worked with cops for about 9 years, and even those with higher degrees didn't talk this way, not even as a joke. Rick just doesn't "click", but does provide a contrast to Mike's persona.

Even the mobsters in the book come across as overdone. Dialog like "We know youse been tailin' him. . . "We's people youse don't wish to cross D'Angelo . . . " I kind of doubt that someone who uses "youse" and "we's" would include "wish" in the same sentence. But then again, he might, if that person was trying to show how "erudite" he is!

Mike's motivations appear to focus on Kimbra and a murder cover-up. However I kept looking for connections between the seemingly unrelated events: the mystery of Kimbra, the involvement of The Purple Gang and Mike's murdered father. With no clear driving force behind Mike's actions, I found it difficult to see the thread tying all the events together. Mike's murdered father, an important focus in the book, does not appear until two-thirds of the book is read. This made for a weak connection to something that could have strongly tied all the events that occur together, making for a tighter story.

With all that said, the book is an enjoyable read. If you like hard boiled private eyes who find themselves caught up in sticky situations involving beautiful but untrustworthy women, show human failings, and in Mike's own words, don't "rate a nice girl [and] wouldn't know what to do with one, except maybe drag her down". I look forward to reading other offerings in this series, admittedly to see how Mike Angel, Private Eye, develops.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

1 comment:

David H Fears said...

Mike Angel's alter ego here--the reason it reads like four short stories is that it origionally was! Yeah, stitched these suckers together to get past my anxiety over novel length works (I'd done 100+ shorts by this time). I appreciate all your kind words. The tentacles from the Purples do bring things together here, and Rick goes on to become Mike's partner in future books (all available in paper by now; all 7); Rick was a vocabulary addict, having taken dozens of classes at NYU off shift. So yeah, his words are coming out his backside, so to speak. --David H Fears--