Without knowing the competition, I would have voted for Thomas Kaufman's debut novel, Drink the Tea, to win the PWA Best First Novel Private Eye Novel Competition. He offers an unusual new character, a private investigator who was a foster child, an interesting search with few clues, and one of my favorite cities, Washington, D.C., as a setting. For me, these are all satisfactory elements for a debut novel.
Willis Gidney really doesn't know who he is. He's now a private investigator, but as a boy, he was just another homeless kid on the streets of Washington, D.C., sleeping under bridges, and trying to get money illegally from the Metro. When he was caught doing that, he was picked up by the police. It was a police officer who named him after the cops who arrested him, because Willis never even knew what his name was. Willis is a haunted character, haunted by his lack of knowledge, his actions as a kid trapped in the juvenile justice system, and haunted by the death of Captain Shadrack Davies, the police officer who named him, and took an interest in his life.
Because of his own lack of knowledge about his past, he agrees to help a friend find his daughter. Steps Jackson heard he had a daughter, who should be a grown woman, and he wants to find Bobbie. There's no good place to start with that investigation, but, after calling in a few favors, Willis ends up on Capitol Hill. And, that's when his case suddenly takes a weird twist, when someone shows a little more interest than a simple search for a missing person would warrant. Anyone but Gidney might quit when offered a high-paying job, threatened, and mugged. He even ended up in jail, but by then, the escalating deaths have made him determined to find out why someone doesn't want him to find Bobbie Jackson. There's so much more involved when political corruption and money come into play.
Willis Gidney's progress is painful to witness, as he patiently searches for his friend's daughter, while remembering his own childhood. Once in the system, he perfected his skills. He learned to defend himself, tell a good lie, and provide a little pressure in the right places, all skills that help him as a detective.
Drink the Tea introduces a sympathetic detective who took an unusual path to get to his present life. And, Kaufman reveals corruption and crime in D.C., at all levels of life. The Washington setting is carefully drawn, illustrating the contrasts in appearances, but the corruption that can be everywhere. Kaufman, an award-winning motion picture director and cameraman, brought his skill at seeing the whole picture, to a successful crime novel. Drink the Tea deserves it's award for best first private eye novel.
Thomas Kaufman's website is www.thomaskaufman.com
Drink the Tea by Thomas Kaufman. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2010. ISBN 9780312607302 (hardcover), 304p.
FTC Full Disclosure: My copy was sent by the publisher, in hopes I would review it.