First Sentence: Denny Clark emerged through a cloud of steam into the cold darkness of Chinatown.
Detective Frost Easton hadn't expected his estranged friend Denny to show up on his doorstep, mortally wounded, uttering the word "Lombard." What does San Francisco's famous street have to do with Denny's murder. PI Dick Coyle claims the City has a serial killer about whom only he knows, who has killed 11 times before, marking each murder site with the image of a slithering snake. Now Frost has to convince his boss to reopen the old cases in order to uncover who is behind the current murders and the super-secret killing organization.
Suspenseful and visual, the opening has a wonderful black-and-white classic golden-age detective movie feel about it. One can almost hear the dramatic music rise at the end.
Every now and then, it is nice to see the protagonist get bested, especially in a relatively harmless way. It shows they're not super-hero invincible. Frost's brother, Duane, a food-truck chef, and his fiancée Tabby, to whom Frost is attracted, as well as Shack the cat and legal owner of the home in which Frost lives, add a very human touch to the character. Frost's complicated relationship with Tabby is interesting and a bit disquieting. However, it is slightly quirky characters such as Herb, Frost's 70-year-old friend, who may well be the most interesting character.
The premise of the book is fascinating. The idea that there have been a series of murders committed without them being identified as such by the police, in spite of there being a common factor, may be a bit far-fetched until a second common factor is revealed. Much of the story centers around relationships and the complications they bring. However, they do become vital to the plot so one must pay attention.
There is nothing more effective than the unknown, unseen enemy who people know exists but can't identify and refuse even to acknowledge. That both Frost and his friend Herb are targeted makes it particularly effective. There is a feeling of Frost being a bit sloppy; rather the male version of TSTL (too stupid to live), but Freeman throws in a very good twist and a connection is made. It is clever when the pieces start coming together, and yet they don't quite. One is still left as much in the dark as is Frost.
Much of the plot feels so improbable; a shadow villain with limitless resources can't find a particular person but two cops can just by asking around? However, one thing Freeman does very well is to create the sense of place—"Darkness caught up with Frost as he headed across the city toward Chinatown. Traffic crawled from red light to red light. Up and down the hills, the neighborhoods changed. First there were painted ladies among the houses, and then there were painted ladies on the streets." San Francisco is used very effectively, especially for those who know her well.
"The Crooked Street" is a good read; perfect for a weekend or airplane book with an ending which leaves one anxious for the next book.
THE CROOKED STREET (PolProc-Frost Easton-San Francisco-Contemp) – G+
Freeman, Brian – 3rd in series
Thomas & Mercer – Jan 2019