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Tonight I Said Goodbye

Michael Koryta

Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin's Press

US Hardcover First Edition

ISBN: 0-312-33245-9

290 Pages; $21.95

Publication Date: September, 2004

Date Reviewed: December 22, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004




'Tonight I Said Goodbye" is a debut novel by an author who is just 22 years old (only 21 by some accounts - he's too young to lie about his age, so it must depend on when he was asked). With nothing against youth, it's not easy for me, presently holding on to the "getting older but wiser" motto for dear life, to sincerely believe someone so young has sufficient life experience to write a meaty detective novel. I set my expectations of the book accordingly, only to have them solidly and rather thoroughly bashed to bits. 'Tonight I Said Goodbye' is a damned good first novel and the start of what I can only hope will be a long-running and likely ever-improving series.

Koryta introduces Lincoln Perry and Joe Prichard, partners in a private investigation agency in Cleveland, Ohio. Both are ex-cops. Joe is the older of the two, a grizzled veteran of many years on the force, who is wise, savvy and tough. Lincoln is younger and more headstrong, forced to resign the force in disgrace after a drunken act of vengeance. Although they are apparently equal partners, at least in this initial adventure, Lincoln gets most of the action and certainly takes most of the abuse (physical). Good thing he's young.

The story opens with the death of investigator Wayne Weston, apparently by suicide. Weston's wife and young daughter are missing, also feared dead. Weston's father, unwilling to believe the suicide verdict, hires Perry and Prichard to uncover the truth and find his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. It's a simple set up, nicely fleshed out by Koryta which could go in any number of directions. Koryta chooses to take it to the criminal underworld of Cleveland, with Russian mobsters and a wealthy local power broker greedily teaming and scheming for personal bounty and domination.

'Tonight I Said Goodbye' has all the requisite components of a good detective story -- good guys who are good but not without tarnish; bad guys who are bad, but not wholly without honor. It has cops both clean and dirty, a couple of capable, believable and sexy women, several twists of plot, a few betrayals, and any number of realistic, but not overblown, violent confrontations with beatings and guns. It has a denouement that is not utterly surprising to those of us "old and wise" readers of thousands of detective stories, but one that is nonetheless satisfying, and one that raises an absorbing ethical dilemma that reaches past the confines of the book.

The novel stands out not for its originality, but for its exceptionally solid craftsmanship. Koryta develops lots of strong, believable characters. The credible, complex plot moves them all along with a sure-handed, not-too-fast-but-not-too-slow pacing that belies his youth. He writes snappy, realistic dialogue sprinkled with subtle humor rather than wisecracks and involving, active exposition. Koryta casts this alluring fishing line and then deftly reels in the readers as he pulls them into his story. It's a book to be read with appreciation for what it is, and that great anticipation for what those that follow may become. All in all, a pretty snazzy debut and one that launches a future series with the all the panache of a champagne christening.