As usual, Harry Shannon's novel arrived with advance praise from seasoned professionals, in this case genre stalwarts such as Bill Pronzini (Nameless Detective, Blue Lonesome) Thomas F. Monteleone (Eyes of the Virgin) and Barbara Seranella, she of the Munch Mancini series. Still, having read only Shannon's horror novels, I wasn't quite sure what to expect with his first foray into crime-noir. I have top admit I forked over the money with more than a degree of caution. With a tower of books awaiting my attention at home, I'm trying to cut down on buying books I'm not 100% confident will be good.

I splashed out and bought an advance copy of the book from a friend who owns a bookstore. I finished it last night, after starting it yesterday morning. If that's not sufficient enough to indicate my feelings about this book, let me clarify: I needn't have worried. If anything, Harry Shannon has, with Memorial Day, shown the reader where his true heart lies -- not in horror, but in the crime genre. This book is, from start to finish, a sepia-toned journey on the shoulders of a weary man at the far end of a short rope.

Mick Callahan is a failed Navy Seal, a psychologist who once had a hit TV show, but is now newly sober and down on his luck. Indeed, when a caller to his new low-rent radio show is murdered, it seems our hero latches onto the crime as something of a distraction against his own uncertainty. He has led a full life, with more than its share of traumas. Static moments give him nothing but time to reflect, and more often than not he is reminded of things he'd rather forget. So, however unwillingly he might see his taking on the role of amateur sleuth, the reader knows it's an attempt at a spiritual cleansing.

Mick is assisted by his AA sponsor (long distance, via computer linkup) and a physically and psychically scarred young sidekick named Jerry. The plot is brisk, and the vivid supporting cast authentically western (in fact the novel is clearly something of an homage to the classic western film with the reluctant gunfighter and the evil rancher. And it still works as beautifully as ever).

There is nary a misstep in this entire novel. Oh, there are lulls in the narrative but these feel necessary, beautifully counterbalancing the darkness that follows. "Memorial Day" has lean, wry dialogue and stands as an intriguing first foray into the seedy underbelly of crime noir. Since that is a genre laden with cliché and repetitiveness, it is all the more surprising and refreshing that Shannon manages to introduce such an original and fiercely entertaining novel into the fray.

For me, there will be no doubt next time. A terrific piece of work.



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