Title: No Good Men
Series: The Caro Mysteries: Book One
Author: Thea McAlistair
Publisher: NineStar Press
Length: 225 Pages
Category: Historical, Mystery
At a Glance: While I enjoyed a variety of aspects of this story and its intrigues, what really sets the mood is the 1930s setting. The title of the book is a nice complement to the story as well. Just as no good deed goes unpunished, with a few exceptions these characters are neither all good nor all bad. They are the product of their upbringing, of their environment, and of their desperation
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: In 1934, almost everyone struggles to pay the rent, and Alex Dawson is no exception. To support his writing habit, he moonlights with his mentor Donnie as a bodyguard for the mayor. It’s dull work, until the night a handsome, golden-eyed stranger catches his eye–and both his boss and his mentor are killed when his back is turned.
Jobless and emotionally adrift, Alex vows to find the murderer before the corrupt police can pin the blame on him. But he soon discovers he’s in over his head. The golden-eyed stranger turns out to be a mob boss’s cousin, and a suspicious stack of money in Donnie’s dresser leads Alex to discover that his mentor and the mayor were involved in something more crooked than fundraising dinners and campaign speeches. As the death count rises amid corruption, mob politics, and anarchist plots, Alex realizes that the murders aren’t political or even business. This is the work of a spree killer, and Alex and his new boyfriend are the only ones who can stop them.
Review: Thea McAlistair’s No Good Men, while not a noir mystery in the strictest definition of the subgenre, is comprised of noirish undertones in its realism and post-World War I, Depression Era backdrop, and it also comes with a Femme Fatale or two to reinforce the atmosphere. While I enjoyed a variety of aspects of this story and its intrigues, what really sets the mood is the 1930s setting. Food scarcity, persistent hunger and a lack of coin in a man’s pocket is a symptom of the time, when the only meal some folks ate came courtesy of the bread lines and soup kitchens that served up charity and sustenance to those in need.
Twenty-three-year-old Alex is working as a bodyguard to Mayor Roy Carlisle, a job that earns him a dollar a night, which is a king’s ransom to a man who counts every penny as valuable and supplements what little he earns as a pulp writer. When Carlisle is assassinated in the club owned by the local Mafiosa, Bella Bellisima, aka the Queen of Sin, not only does it put Alex out of a job, but the man who was a mentor and the closest thing to a father Alex ever had gets caught up in the crossfire. As it becomes an imperative to Alex to find the identity of the killer, it also becomes clear that Donnie Kemp may not have been an innocent victim of the shooting as much as he was a deliberate target. When the clues turn out to be more complicated and deeply sinister than Alex anticipated, and as more violent deaths follow in the wake of the initial murders, he is swept up in a level of organized crime that drops him far out of his depth.
Alex as author gives a life imitates art, or perhaps an art imitates life, vibe to this story, which I loved. His ability to spin a narrative comes in handy in the end, specifically in his relationship with Severo Argenti and their need for a plausible story for themselves and an orphaned girl, Pearl, whose precociousness added a little extra something to the story. The romance most definitely serves as a subplot to the mystery in No Good Men, so those looking for a deeper relationship angle will be left wanting. That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of feeling and sentiment between Alex and Sev, though. The intimacy that grows between them taking place off page was suited to the days when men engaging in relations with each other could be, and were, charged with gross indecency. Something Alex is personally familiar with, so his caution with Sev is justified and prudent.
Yellow journalism plays its role in the story as well, in a journalist who isn’t averse to using a little coercion to his advantage to guarantee Alex’s cooperation, something that brings out Alex’s pugnacious side at first—another thing he’s had issues with in the past—but Vern Temple also becomes an unexpected ally. Vern knows sensationalism and knows that scoops and exclusives and explosive headlines sell papers. He also knows that being a Black man means he must work harder to remain an asset to the paper. His enlisting Alex’s help to discover the identity of the person sending suspicious and threatening letters, and that going hand-in-hand with the murders, is necessarily self-serving, but the mutual respect that grows between them was a great side effect of their working together.
The title of the book is a nice complement to the story as well. Just as no good deed goes unpunished, with a few exceptions these characters are neither all good nor all bad. They are the product of their upbringing, of their environment, of their desperation, and while systemic corruption comes into play, it’s some of the moral gray areas that cropped up throughout that I found more interesting. I’m looking forward to book two in the Caro Mysteries series to see where the author takes her characters and what more there is to learn about them.
You can buy No Good Men here:
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