Go Down Hard

godownhardCraig Faustus Buck’s first full-length novel, GO DOWN HARD, combines classic hard-boiled and noir crime fiction elements into a thoroughly contemporary Southern California-based murder mystery. It’s not only an impressive debut novel for this prolific author of journalism, scripts, and short stories, but also one of the finest and most entertaining crime novels of the year,

The protagonist, Nob Brown, is a divorced, thirty-something former LAPD cop who barely pays his rent writing sensational articles for the tabloids. Then Gloria Lopes, an LAPD detective and Nob’s “friend with benefits,” tries to cheer Nob up by slipping him the confidential case file of an unsolved murder.

The murder victim is Lana Strain, a legendary rock-and-roll goddess that obsessed Nob for most of his young life. With the 20th anniversary of the murder approaching, Nob sees the opportunity to not only reveal the murderer after all these years, but also produce an article with irresistible cash-cow potential for a full-length book and movie adaptation deal.

Using the information in the case file, Nob tracks down Lana Strain’s former husband and lead guitar player, her two surviving daughters, and Lana’s father as well. Nob quickly discovers that, along with her music, Lana Strain left behind one of the most dysfunctional families imaginable. But somebody doesn’t want Nob sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong – and is willing to kill to discourage Nob from uncovering the truth about Lana Strain’s murder.

Right from the opening paragraph we see Buck following the traditions of Hammett and Chandler with his lead character providing the first-person narration, complete with wisecracks and cynicism that, we soon learn, covers a disillusioned but sincere and caring soul.

Los Angeles, the novel’s central location, may have changed a lot since Chandler’s Philip Marlowe roamed the mean streets. But it’s still a town full of overnight successes and broken dreams. Buck uses the rock music industry and the thriving business of internet-based, interactive pornography (as well as its more “traditional media”) to illustrate these points.

But Chandler never envisioned a free-spirited, lustful girlfriend like Gloria Lopes, and the Southern California of Chandler’s day did not have the kind of lawyers who effortlessly straddle both sides of the law, psychotherapists with questionable professional ethics, and Russian mobsters cloistered in the dark backrooms of private clubs that Nob must deal with in his investigation.

Buck manages to keep the narrative, with all its family complications and red herrings, moving forward with only a few moments where the pace bogs down. Fortunately these moments, as well as most of the narration, are enlivened by the caustic observations of L. A.’s self-contradictory history and its various landmarks and institutions provided mostly by Nob with occasional contributions from Gloria and other players.

The characters are all completely contemporary and completely credible as well; although some may find Lana’s ex-husband — with his sudden conversion to Jesus while still clinging to the attitudes of his excessive rock star past, all mixed with a thick southern accent– a bit hard to swallow. Most impressive, however, is Nob Brown himself, with his ruined past and self-destructive traits that rival the noir protagonists preceding him. Yet he remains likable and insightful enough to hold our interest and sympathies while he makes his way through the Strain family’s past to learn the facts about Lana’s death.

Along with echoes of the afore-mentioned Hammett and Chandler, GO DOWN HARD also shows traces of such contemporary masters as Donald E. Westlake and Elmore Leonard – especially in its combination of abrupt, unexpected violence and laugh-out-loud humor.

Anyone curious about the state of or characteristics of the contemporary crime novel need look no further than GO DOWN HARD. It was well worth the wait, but let’s hope Craig Faustus Buck doesn’t keep us waiting too long for a follow-up. —Alan Cranis

Get it at Amazon.

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