Sunday, June 15, 2008

"A Welcome Grave" by Michael Koryta

I’ve seen it before – books that feature an ex-cop-now-a-private-investigator-with-a-dame-troubled past – you know – the stuff that noir thrillers are made of - but I haven’t seen it this well done in quite a long time.

With a deftly handled complex plot, nail-biting suspense and thoughtful characterization, Michael Koryta’s A Welcome Grave is a stand out – but some might argue that it’s not exactly a stand alone.

Every writer of series fiction has decisions to make. Near the top of this list are the choices to create a mostly self-contained work, or to craft an individual novel part that’s of a greater – and still continuing - whole. Mr. Koryta seems to have decided upon the latter.

Make no mistake, A Welcome Grave wraps up all this episode’s main plot lines in a neat and entirely satisfying package, but there’s unfinished business from past books that comes into play here, as well as changes to new and old relationships that will no doubt be relevant in the next books to follow. Bottom line: having read this book, I now plan on reading the earlier books in Mr. Koryta’s Lincoln Perry series, starting with the winner of the annual SMP/PWA Prize for Best First PI Novel, and Edgar award nominee: Tonight I Said Goodbye.

A Welcome Grave starts out simply enough: the husband of Lincoln’s ex-fiancé, Karen, turns up not just dead, but viciously tortured prior to death, leading the cops to think that this homicide is personal – and who would be so inclined to do such a heinous deed, none other than the man whose fiancé dumped him so she could marry the lawyer-turned-homicide-victim, Lincoln Perry himself. Complications ensue.

Convinced that he’s gotten over Karen’s rejection, Lincoln reluctantly agrees to help investigate the murder of her much older husband, Alex Jefferson – a lawyer who got rich by being the go-to guy for the seriously rich when they get themselves into a big, stinking heap-load o’ trouble.

But the not-so-rich, like Lincoln Perry, have a fixer of their own – a soft-spoken, knife wielding Russian mobster named Thor, a character who appears to have been a big player from a previous Lincoln Perry novel, and a villain/anti-hero who’s so charismatic and complex you can understand full well why Mr. Koryta would bring him back on stage for an encore. As the true murderer of Alex Jefferson sets up Lincoln Perry to take the fall, it’s Thor whom Lincoln turns to when both the cops and the killers close in on him.

In A Welcome Grave there are enough red herrings to keep the most careful reader and savvy thriller fan guessing, with plenty of raised stakes, riveting twists, and sudden shockers to keep the pages turning till the very end. What makes this slim novel even more impressive is the way Mr. Koryta weaves into the plot the up and downs in Lincoln’s key relationships, in particular, the evolution of his partnership with Joe Pritchard, as well as his tenuous romance with reporter, Amy Ambrose; character developments play out in tandem with the action, and only serve to enhance the plot. At the heart of this novel is the theme of just how and why we perceive someone as guilty, and the life-and-death consequences of getting it wrong.

With its rich characterization and intricate plot, it’s no surprise that A Welcome Grave was nominated for a Quill Award in the mystery/suspense category.

To learn more about the author and his books, please visit:

And be sure to watch for his next book, Envy the Night, coming August 5th, 2008.

Here's what Publishers Weekly has to say about this upcoming release: "Revenge drives this superb stand-alone... Koryta's dialogue is as sharp as the knives his characters wield, and his plot twists at the most unexpected moments. This thriller places Koryta solidly in the company of the genre's most powerful voices." - (starred review)