The Bottom Line: This charming, classically-told crime thriller is a must for noir fans.
Ed Duncan’s debut crime thriller revolves around a stolen necklace with sixteen colormatched rubies, each a prized pigeon-blood red. The necklace – which comes with quite a pedigree – belongs to Chicago loan shark Frank Litvak, who entrusts it to rank-and-file muscle Rico Sanders and his colleague, Jerry. If you’re thinking that sounds like a very bad business decision, it is. Within hours of the handoff, the necklace has disappeared.
Was it stolen by Rico’s girlfriend, who was fooling around with him in the back seat of his car while Jerry chauffeured them around town? Or was it lifted by Robert, a gambling addict who’s into Litvak for $50,000? Just one thing is for sure. Rico will stop at nothing to get it back.
In many ways, Pigeon Blood Red is refreshingly old-school pulp, inhabited by a familiar cast of gamblers, con men and hustlers found in Dennis Lehane and Elmore Leonard novels. In that respect, barring a reference to Google, Duncan’s story could easily be set in 1916 instead of 2016. On the other hand, in Rico, Duncan has drawn an entirely contemporary character, full of emotional complexity and facing an identity crisis. When the mobster goes to Hawaii to hunt for the necklace, he’s a fish out of water. Seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time, he’s simultaneously captivated and homesick for the sturdy grit of Chicago. He also dares to wonder whether his girlfriend – who he treats rather badly at times – might want to share a life with him there. Even as the hunt for Frank’s jewels gains intensity, it’s Rico’s increasingly rich character arc – a conflict between the man he is and the man he wants to be – that makes this book well worth the time investment.