|Les Roberts: Indian Sign|
Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0-312-25217-X
Les Roberts understands the difficulty many Americans face in taking seriously the city whose river (the Cuyahoga) flamed like the River Styx (from pollution, not mythology). The fire inspired at least one song and a generation of jokes and comedy routines. Yet, with a minimum of self-deprecation, Milan ably demonstrates he not only knows his way around Cleveland but also possesses a feel for its pre-flaming-river history.
Milan refers to landmarks and adds background to give readers not only setting, but a sense of place. When describing the view from his office, Milan explains, "a fabulous view out over the hairpin twist of the Cuyahoga River known, from days of the 600-foot ore tankers, who used to regularly engage in aquatic fender benders, as Collision Bend."
This sense of place encourages readers to develop a closer affinity to Milan, a respectful character with blue-collar roots. His simple black and white, right or wrong attitude nudges him on page one of "Indian Sign," the 11th Milan Jacovich mystery. This nudge of conscience begets painful regrets before the conclusion.
The story opens on a cold winter day, the kind that can freeze your cheeks off -- both sets. Sitting stoically in the midst of the cold and snow, an elderly Indian complete with braids and deerskin boots, stares fixedly. Milan notes the figure, but goes about his usual business. The Indian intrudes on Milan's thoughts and soon provides the momentum for Milan's investigation.
Roberts, author of 11 Jacovich mysteries and six Saxon mysteries, knows how to tell a story that keeps readers moving toward the final "Ah ha!" Roberts doesn't totally fool the reader. He involves readers in the plot to the point where they find themselves shouting at Milan and temporary side-kick Suzanne, because the readers figure out the clues just before the characters do. The conflict, though not spine-tingling, kept me turning pages. The ethical questions raised in the book prompted me to question gray areas of right and wrong. I found myself wondering: "Is right always the best course of action?"
Roberts' novel shares knowledge, introduces readers to new streets and urges readers to take another look at morals and ethics. The book more than fulfills the writer-reader contract and makes for a fascinating interlude with Milan Jacovich, an ethical gentleman.
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