They are drawing ever closer, these thin denizens of Don Lewis’ finely pulped world, shadows a bit longer, darker, fuller underneath cruel Floridian sun, but they are still a long way from Chandler’s Santa Ana strapped City of Angels, Stark’s remorseless underworld, Leonard’s high engine aesthetic purring, sputtering, in atavistic characters and climes.
In short, you can’t see Kentucky from Tampa.
The same stick figures which populated Lewis’ “Rizzo” return in “Kalup’s Crossroads,” albeit with different names and different back stories and different motivations, most all of them slowly desiccating on the shores of Tampa Bay, but their numbers are fewer now and one can see the plot for the emaciated trees.
Everyone is still strung together by fishing line, pulled through a mystery not nearly so cryptic as it would seemingly wish to be – it is mainly a mystery of ornamentation, of details; the long arcs are guessed at and hit upon early and often, and the rest of the process is merely dialing in, which, while procedurally correct and potentially riveting in its own way, is really only kind of exciting here.
A DEA bust in Fort Myers leads to the apprehension of a key cog in Colombian cocaine czar Carlos Estrada’s cartel, a collar whose insistence on speaking with the FBI, and subsequent friction said insistence causes, seems at first to be just another skirmish in the battle between the two agencies. After a murder is committed in the home of former SEAL/DEA agent and current Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonny Kalup, and Kalup himself arrested and charged, it is up to those who still believe in his innocence to suss out what, exactly, happened in his house that night, and whether the narcotraficantesthe FBI or a collaboration between the two is responsible for Kalup’s framing.
Just as in “Rizzo,” Lewis showcases his talents for crafting protagonists; Kalup, a poor man’s Jack Ryan, is stocked not only with the now-requisite accoutrements of a modern day Man of Action – extensive military training, a fine wife and keen intellect – but is legitimately saddled with a ferocious temper, an albatross Lewis admirably does not shy from and, even more admirably, causes Kalup to suffer under.
Furthermore, hamstrung as he is by his legal predicament, Kalup is placed in the intriguing and somewhat unusual position of being primarily acted upon. The end result is a hero with an indomitable Doc Savage CV and latent lethality who still comes across as inherently human, a man first and foremost, and with all the failings the title connotes.
Unfortunately, just as in “Rizzo,” the promising protagonist is surrounded by dull environs. Lewis avails himself to his settings better here, whipping up storms when need be (a cliche, but an effective one) and flitting to the ashen cold of the Midwest and Rust Belt and the verdant heat of Colombia for bits of color and exotica, but the locations are still mere matte paintings.
Characters which should be devouring page after page wink into, than out of, existence, at best lingering like a previous hotel room occupant’s cigarette smoke, while the stick figures jerk about in flip book roles, dutifully plugging away until the final details of the plot are sketched in.
The most egregiously underutilized aspect of “Crossroads” is its timing. Opening directly before 9 /11, and hinging, as it does, upon federal blood feuds, one would hope that at least one of the novel’s myriad of stick figures would espouse the pallor-inducing revelation anyone post-horror would surely hold, i.e., hubris comes before the fall.
That “Crossroads” instead revels in the kind of interagency tilting which helped bring down the towers – aside from a mention about the nascent Department of Homeland Security, any and all 9/11 related issues are roundly skirted – is disappointing in the extreme. Kalup himself wielding the biggest stick not so much, per se but to have no one not at daggers in the muck seems almost negligent.
Yet still Lewis comes close here to crafting something as riveting as Sonny Kalup deserves; unfair as it is, the only thing missing is je ne sais quoi. There is a chapter in “Rizzo,” an extended monologue, of sorts, advocating the ideals of the American justice system, of presumed innocence, and Lewis, a retired criminal prosecutor, imbued it with such passion as to make this donning of the clerical collar the most well written section of the book, a fine mini-essay extracted from a middling tome.
The closest “Crossroads” comes to this high is a bit of Inside Baseball on jury selection, but there is evidence that there is a finer writer lurking within the kindling than at first appears.
B. David Zarley, For The Sun News
Jewish community reads event
The Jewish Grand Strand Community Reads Event will take place on March 2 at 1 p.m. at the Sea Captain’s House in Myrtle Beach. Guest speaker Rabbi Debbie Slavitt will discuss the book “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helen Wecker. To RSVP, contact Susan Curtis at email@example.com. The cost is $20, which includes an entree, beverage, dessert, tax and gratuity.
First Book luncheon coming up
Veteran journalist and author Batt Humphreys of Charleston will be the guest speaker at First Book’s spring luncheon on April 19, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Inlet Affairs in Murrells Inlet.
Humphreys will discuss his first novel, “Dead Weight,” a novel based on the true story of a young African-American man wrongfully accused of murder and hanged. He will be available for a meet-and-greet session, as well as for book signing.
In “Dead Weight,” Humphreys explores the events surrounding the 1910 murder of Max Lubelsky, a tailor who died from a beating in his King Street shop in Charleston. Daniel “Nealy” Duncan was subsequently arrested, charged, found guilty and executed by hanging.
Patrons will also enjoy lunch and door prizes and a silent auction for gifts such as restaurant gift certificates, weekend hotel stays, custom jewelry, golf packages, original artwork and more.
Tickets are $30 and are available from any First Book board member. Tickets may also be purchased at Ameriprise Financial Services office at 1601 N. Oak St. in Myrtle Beach, Suite 402.
Proceeds from the luncheon will benefit First Book of Horry County, an organization that provides new books for children in need. The local organization is part of First Book’s national network of volunteer-led advisory boards, and the only chapter in the state of South Carolina. For every $30 donation, First Book is able to provide eight new children’s books.
Inlet Affairs is located at 4024 U.S. 17 Business in Murrells Inlet.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call Mona Prufer at 349-2087 (email firstname.lastname@example.org) or Margene Willis at 349-2694 (email@example.com) or email First Book at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Musical month at NMB Library
“Fabulous Musical February” continues at the North Myrtle Beach Library with the program “Can You Hear the Drums?” presented by Hadassah Faison, on Feb. 27 at noon. Hadassah Faison is a multimedia artist and an education specialist, who has developed a multicultural curriculum guide.
The presentation, in honor of Black History Month, will showcase the origins of the African drums and will include chants, rhythms, and storytelling from different tribes. There will be instruments from various regions of Africa, including twangas (thumb pianos), a balaphone, shakers, and African drums.
This program is sponsored by the and the Friends of the Library of North Myrtle Beach and the Horry County Library System. The library is located at 910 First Ave. S. in North Myrtle Beach. The program is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the North Myrtle Beach Library at 915-5281.
If you have book- or author-related news, email email@example.com. Items and reviews run on a space-available basis.