Since I had only read one book on the list of Edgar nominees, I picked up Steve Ulfelder’s Purgatory Chasm. It’s nominated for Best First Novel by an American Author. It’s one heckuva ride.
Conway Sax owes his survival to the Barnburners. He’s an ex-con, a recovering alcoholic and addict. The Barnburners saved his life. The group started as an outcast AA group that the national organization refused to sanction, bikers and WWII GIs. They might be sanctioned now, but at times, they still needed Conway skills, “Skills I’d picked up in rail yards, alleys, county jails.” He was a mechanic, a NASCAR driver, and the son of an alcoholic. And, Conway helps Barnburners, no questions asked, even when they’re as obnoxious as Tander Phigg.
When Tander asks Conway to help him get his Mercedes out of a garage that’s holding it hostage, Conway thinks there’s more to the story, but he won’t turn down a Barnburner. But, before he can get too far into the Tander’s story, Conway is hit over the head and thrown in the street, and Tander is found dead, supposedly a suicide. One shrewd New Hampshire State Trooper thought otherwise, but no one listened to him. Conway agreed, but, as an ex-con on parole, he didn’t want to mess with the police. So, it was just like Conway Sax to start his own investigation, one that can lead to more than a beating outside a garage.
Conway Sax is complex character. However, his character is perfect for a recovering alcoholic. He has problems with commitment, and can’t decide if he wants to live with his girlfriend, Charlene, or stay in his own house. She’s a recovering alcoholic who pulled herself up through hard work, and she recognizes his issues. He has a hard time dealing with his relationship with his father. When his father shows up in a hospital, he doesn’t know if he should hug him or throttle him. At the same time, this is a man who has two cats who were once abused, and he named them after race car drivers, Dale and Davey. He has a great relationship with his girlfriend’s young daughter. Charlene sums him up with, “You don’t trust anybody until you trust them. And then you trust them too much.”
Conway is the ideal character for this hardboiled novel. He’s committed to the Barnburners, so he’ll throw himself completely into Tander Phigg’s case, no matter how much it hurts him physically and emotionally. And, he’ll chase every convoluted story and crooked character until he finds the truth. He’s a race car driver, a recovering alcoholic who launches himself wholeheartedly into everything he chooses to do.
Purgatory Chasm is a hardboiled, fast-paced novel. It’s an action-packed, solid debut, worthy of an Edgar nomination. Steve Ulfelder deserves kudos for the story. Most of all, he deserves kudos for the creation of Conway Sax, a memorable character.
Steve Ulfelder’s website is www.noparticularorderblog.blogspot.com.
FTC Full Disclosure – The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.