First Sentence: Art Fowler came to me on the last day of January while I was sitting in my front parlor drinking coffee and watching a blizzard blow in the from the south.
Retired PI Leo Waterman is asked by Art Fowler, an old friend, to help find answers as to why his grandson would suddenly kill a city councilman and then himself. No one can explain how Matthew got the gun, which belonged to his father, into the City Hall, and what he did during the nine minutes between when he entered and when he shot the councilman. When Art allegedly commits suicide two days after making the request, Leo knows he can't ignore things. Leo's questions into the matter nearly cost him his life and take him into a situation he'd never expected.
The story begins without a prologue, but with a scene which sets the stage—"Out in the orchard, the drifting snow had harlequined the trees black and white. Looked like every apple and pear had one stubborn leaf, a sole survivor, waving like a drowning sailor as the skeletal branches were slapped to and fro by the wind." Ford also makes a very true observation about guilt—"Guilt's a funny thing. Sort of a phantom feeling, because you don't have to be guilty of anything in order to experience it. You can even feel guilty about not feeling guilty, about stuff you had not one damn thing to do with in the first place. It's like guilt's an equal opportunity abuser. Another funny thing: people who have the most to feel guilty about generally don't."
Ford's voice is reminiscent of 40's noir with sardonic humor. It's not Tarantino graphic, but it is violent. One thing which is very refreshing is to not have a protagonist who is critically injured amazingly be up and ready for action in a couple of days. Ford handles it much more realistically, and includes both the physical and emotional recovery, reminding one of Robert B. Parker's book "Small Vices."
There are excellent and interesting secondary characters, including Leo's gang of old men, but the primary sidekick is Gabriella (Gabe) Funicello, a unique character; one becomes very glad he's there. Yet each character plays their part, including Leon Marks, a young AP stringer, being quite heroic, and the barkeep at the oyster bar in Conway.
Ford provides an apt description of not only Everett, Washington, but of so many towns around the country—"These were the people for whom the economic system no longer functions, folks who had voted for "something else," because what they did for a living didn't need to be done anymore." He also understands something some in politics do not—"To make it worse, he told anybody who'd listen he was a socialist, which just drove the locals and the retired military people apeshit. Far as they're concerned, that's the same thing as a communist."
Emotion, sorrow, and anger are all conveyed well, as is gratitude. A very refreshing change from the style of many current authors writing in short sentences and having remarkably short chapters, is to reading Ford with long, complex sentences, and realizing the entire book is split into only four chapters.
Just when one thinks things are calm, they're not. The tension ratchets up significantly to a level where one has to remember to breathe when we realize we are dealing with a topic, and a group, very much in today's news. Ford's theory as to why some become involved in radicalized groups makes sense.
"Soul Survivor" presents a very different, and much darker, G.M. Ford than we've ever known. It's not a comfortable read, but it's an honest one with several "wow" moments. One can only hope to see more of Leo in the future.
SOUL SURVIVOR (Susp-Leo Waterman-Washington-Contemp) - Ex
Ford, G.M. – 11th in seriesThomas & Mercer – July 2018