I finished reading EASY DEATH last night. Published in 2014 by Hard Case Crime (my favorite publisher!), EASY DEATH is the first crime novel by Daniel Boyd, the pseudonym of a veteran police office who served for nearly thirty years in a department in central Ohio, including four years as Chief of Police. His previous novel, NADA, was nominated for the Spur Award by the Western Writers of America.
For a first time effort, EASY DEATH is one helluva good read. It's a caper novel about an armored car robbery that takes place a few days before Christmas, 1951. The setting is a small Midwestern town and the players include the armored car guards, the robbers, the mastermind behind the crime and a couple of park rangers, one a sadistic son-of-a-bitch, the other, a lady ranger who's a cross between Katherine Hepburn and Eleanor Roosevelt. Oh, yeah, she's also Richard Nixon's cousin (!)
As in all good caper novels, things go wrong in a deadly way. That's a given in this genre. But what nails the pages of EASY DEATH to the reader's hands is Boyd's storytelling. He fractures the narrative in both time and space by moving back and forth between various characters both before and after the robbery during the first act. The second act is an excruciatingly suspenseful fight to the death in a national park in which Boyd pulls off a literary sleight of hand trick that I never saw coming. It's a pure writer's device that could never work in a film but on paper, it's genius. The third act finds the robbers executing a skillful recovery of the stolen money and a clean getaway. Boyd puts our sympathies squarely with the bad guys here by making the two robbers, Walter and Eddie, the main characters in the book. You find yourself pulling for them to succeed against all odds.
Throughout the book, the action is accompanied by the sounds of various Christmas songs played on car radios, radios in stores and offices and on jukeboxes. Think AMERICAN GRAFFITI with Christmas music rather than rock 'n roll. It's a nice touch that adds greatly to the atmosphere of the book and helps to bring the time and place to vivid life.
My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that things wrap up a bit too quickly and cleanly at the end of the novel. There are some questions left unanswered and a couple of loose threads that aren't entirely tied up. Still, EASY DEATH is the kind of crime novel I love. Gritty, tough, realistic and suspenseful. It would make one terrific movie. Are you listening Hollywood?