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Nick Stone
Mr Clarinet
Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2006

Michael Joseph Ltd/Penguin Group
UK Hardcover First
ISBN: 10-0-718-14855-X
Publication Date: January, 2006
576 Pages; $12.99
Date Reviewed: May 2, 2006

Index: Mystery  Horror  General Fiction

Nick Stone in his debut novel 'Mr Clarinet' has done a remarkable thing. He's taken all the conventional elements of the detective genre — seen-too-much-misery former cop turned detective hired to find a kidnapped child — and infused them with his unique dose of black magic and created an outstanding and frightening novel. Fans of Kent Harrington's 'Dios de los Muertas' or John Connolly's Charlie Parker books will find much to like here.

Stone's detective is Max Mingus. We meet him as he's being released after serving seven years at Riker's Island for manslaughter and just after his wife has been killed in an automobile accident. At loose ends, Mingus is offered a job that's hard to refuse by wealthy scion Allain Carver. Be the third detective hired to find Carver's son Charlie, who disappeared three years ago on the island of Haiti, and collect $10 million dollars. Fail to find Charlie and face death — well no, not death. "Worse. Much worse".

Before setting off to Haiti, Max visits one of the detectives previously hired by Carver, still alive, but in a state of dissolution and decay that is appalling and luridly gross. Not only will this scene shock you, it will scare the bejesus out of you. It's a master-stroke set up, establishing quite vividly what "much worse" looks like and foretelling the fate that may await Mingus should he fail. What follows is a suspenseful, stomach-turning but completely riveting 500 pages of twists and turns as this creepy, scary story plays out. 'Mr Clarinet' is a very long book that doesn't read that way.

Stone spent his early years in Haiti and uses his background to infuse the narrative with a vivid sense of place. Home of voodoo, black magic and appalling poverty, the Haitian natives tell of scores of children who've vanished over the years, lured by Tonton Clarinette, the pied piper of black magic. As Mingus pursues the kidnapping trail, he encounters a vast cast of characters. Among the most memorable are Allain Carver's domineering father, Gustav, a Haitian and international power monger of great wealth and a nefarious hidden past and his powerful counterpart Vincent Paul, the chief suspect in the disappearance of the child, a wealthy drug baron and master of Cite Soleil, known more commonly as "Shit City". That's a completely literal description, and Stone's rendering of this city within a city is sufficiently disturbing to keep you awake at night.

This is Stone's greatest skill — his ability to envision and describe scenes of utter depravity, appalling barbarism and gross, gruesome torture — with language that is vivid, powerful and utterly absorbing. This is not stuff you'd ever be able to watch on TV and certainly not stuff you'll want to read if you're weak of stomach. There are scenes in 'Mr Clarinet' that are visceral and shocking, but they ring true to the story, they're brilliantly written, and they carve an indelible image in the reader's consciousness. This is not a story that's easily or quickly forgotten.

Stone's narrative is complex. Character's initially established in one arena reveal surprising true identities and even more surprising, mostly evil, connections. Those who initially appear suspect become less so, while those who initially seem sincere or benign become truly evil. Stone's themes are dark. He writes vividly of unspeakable things - child abuse and pedophilia — as well as the more common vices - greed, corruption and power, all with roots deep in the Haitian culture.

Listed below the title of Stone's novel is "The First Max Mingus Thriller". Max certainly deserves future outings - he's a powerful, if not always admirable, guy. And he owns one of the greatest goodbyes in the genre, uttered (frequently) both when he beats the bad guys and when he wants to scare them — "Adios motherfucker". Gotta hear that again!

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