Killer Swell by Jeff Shelby
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"We drove south on the five, past Lindbergh Field, the ancient El Cortez Hotel and Balboa Park, home to most of San Diego's cultural activities. We moved by the on-ramp to the Coronado Bridge and then through the industrial grounds of National City and Imperial Beach to the last U.S. exit in San Ysidro."
Jeff Shelby's "Killer Swell" (2005) relies on prose like the fragment shown above in its attempts to convincingly situate the plot in San Diego. This beautiful city has been my home for the last 33 years and I am always on a lookout for accurate literary portrayals of the city. Alas, listing the names of streets, districts, and tourist attractions does not convey the atmosphere or sense of location. The only part of San Diego that is somewhat close to coming alive from the pages of the novel is the surfers' and beach bums' area around Mission Boulevard. All the rest are just words.
Noah Braddock, a private investigator and an avid surfer, is the protagonist of the novel. Ten years ago, while finishing high school, he had been in love with Kate, but her parents managed to break the relationship. Now, Kate - who has since married and moved to Northern California - has disappeared and her mother asks Noah to help find her. Despite the passage of time, Kate is still a very important person to Noah, so he agrees to take the case. The investigation leads him and his cliché sidekick, Carter, to face a cliché Mexican drug lord and his cliché brutal enforcers. There is violence, people die, and others get hurt. In other developments Noah also has to face Kate's slick husband, while continuing the on-and-off relationship (another cliché) with Liz, a detective on the San Diego police force.
Despite the preponderance of tired clichés, despite several moronic plot devices (for instance, Tates, the psychotic twins, ugh), and amateurish sentences like "He said it so matter-of-factly that it couldn't have been a lie", the novel is not that bad a read. I have to admit I sort of enjoyed it.
Two and a half stars.
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