Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Harry Stoner #01 - The Lime Pit

Jonathan Valin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1947. He graduated from University of Chicago, and now works for Fi, a music criticism magazine he helped create. In the middle of his career were 11 mystery novels starring a Cincinnati detective named Harry Stoner. As a fan of 1980s crime-fiction, I decided to begin the series with the very first novel, The Lime Pit, published in 1980 as a hardcover by Dodd Mead.

Throughout the course of The Lime Pit, readers gain tidbits about Harry Stoner's life. The first thing we learn is that he served in the U.S. military as an M.P. during the Vietnam War. He has killed people before, and at one point he worked in Cincinnati's District Attorney's office. Now, Stoner is a private detective making ends meet taking on cases in America's mid-western heartland. As the book begins, Stoner is responding to an inquiry made by a Cincinnati man named Hugo Cratz.

Cratz is an elderly man living in the average community of North Clifton. He advises Stoner that a young woman he befriended, Cindy Ann, has gone missing. After the police dismiss the case, Cratz wants to hire Stoner to find her. The problem is that Cratz can barely rub two nickels together, so Stoner realizes he's probably working the case pro brono. The last place Cindy Ann was seen was with the controversial neighborhood couple. When Stoner interviews the couple, they tell him that Cratz is just hurt that his girl has run off with a biker. But, there isn't enough conviction in their story to fully satisfy Stoner. Combining this with Cratz's account that the weird couple are actually human sex traffickers peddling young women to Cincinnati's upper-crust thrusts Stoner into the investigation.

I read some online reviews about Valin's writing style and tend to agree with all of them. First and foremost, the guy can write his ass off. Second, his dialogue is convincing – this is how real people talk. So much that Valin even analyzes his own work by mentioning characters in other books fail to possess enough validity. He encourages his readers that his work is the real deal. I like that element and it reminded me of the great horror writer Brian Keene and his real-world presentation of average blue-collar people behaving in ways that genuinely seem valid and real. 

The Lime Pit drags readers through some really dark places within sex trafficking, politics, sports, and the lifestyles of the rich and richer. It's gritty, often disturbing, and very violent. Stoner is the capable protagonist guiding the readers through this seedy underworld. He doesn't necessarily break the law in an attempt to punish the lawbreakers, but he skirts the edges in a captivating way. I found comparisons to Loren Estleman's Amos Walker mysteries, with both detectives stalking their way through blue-collar towns to obtain justice. In fact, the first Amos Walker installment, Motor City Blue, has a similar plot to The Lime Pit, and was published the same year.

If you enjoy a great mystery filled with diverse characters, the The Lime Pit is sure to please. I loved this book and I'm anxious to read more Harry Stoner novels. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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