Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book Review: Blackbird Farewell, by Robert Greer

Robert Greer’s seventh CJ Floyd mystery takes place in the heart of Colorado, where new shining star of college basketball Shandell "Blackbird" Bird is found shot to death on a basketball court. His close friend and college roommate Damion Madrid feels that the local police aren’t going to look as deeply into the murder as they should, and so he decides to investigate the murder himself.

Blackbird’s Godfather, Denver based bail bondsman CJ Floyd, is in Hawaii on his honeymoon. To help out the investigation, he not only sends his former Marine intelligence operative partner to lend a hand, but also lends helpful guidance and suggestions over the phone. As Damion and an assortment of shady and sometimes dangerous acquaintances dig deeper into the murder, they begin to unravel a conspiracy of corruption and lies that extend farther beyond the basketball court than anyone had imagined.

Greer’s novel is a captivating, quick-paced mystery with personal conflict, local history, and underworld manipulations weaved throughout. While the story is worth reading, there are a few hurdles that keep it from being a completely smooth ride.

There are plenty of colorful and interesting characters populating the late Blackbird’s world, and this is always a plus for mystery novels. However, the drawback in this case is that they tend to overwhelm the reader by sheer number. Similar sounding names and overlapping character quirks and backgrounds can sometimes make it difficult to tell them apart, and only add to the confusion.

Another minor flaw with the narrative is the author’s unskillful way of explaining back story. Past events, character backgrounds, and expositional material are often thrust into descriptive passages and supposedly casual dialogue in big meaty fistfuls, making them tough to chew and hard to digest. Greer has a very complex and multi-layered story to tell, and there is so much needed background that he can sometimes seem desperate to unload it all.

These flaws, while unavoidable, are minor nonetheless, and are easily overlooked as Damion’s investigation draws you further into a world that neither he nor the reader ever though existed. This latest entry in the CJ Floyd series may not be the best, but it is far from the worst, and definitely worth a look.

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