PaperBackSwap Blog


Mystery Monday – Port Hazard

Port Hazard by Loren D. Estleman 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Published in 2004, this is the seventh, and to date the next to the latest, historical mystery western featuring deputy US marshal Page Murdock. With three dozen or so westerns, mysteries, and stand-alones to his credit by the time he wrote this one, Estleman challenges himself and his readers by writing in the extravagant style of dime novels and sensational novels of the later Victorian era. Of a theater in Port Hazard:

Cabbage roses exploded on burgundy runners in the aisles. Laurels of gold leaf encircled a coffered ceiling with a Greek Bacchanal enshrined in stained glass in the center, lighted from above so that the chubby nymphs’ nipples and the blubbery lips of the bloated male gods and demigods glittered like rubies.

The dialogue however brings to mind the pithy skepticism about the conventions that we enjoy in noir novels.  There is also much crook argot, which makes sense if you don’t overthink it. A glossary is provided for readers with a low tolerance for ambiguity.

The story opens in Montana, which is more or less the homeless Murdock’s base. His boss, federal judge Harlan Blackthorne, sends his the Barbary Coast on a dangerous assignment. Murdock is to determine if indeed an organization called the Sons of the Confederacy is headed by the Honorable D.W. Wheelock, city alderman and captain in the San Francisco fire brigade. On the way to San Francisco, he persuades Edward Anderson Beecher—a railroad porter (who were all African-American) to watch his back. Murdock trusts the ex-cavalryman to be a fighter.

Rendered well are the gamblers, drunks, vigilantes, prostitutes, thugs, bent politicians and Chinese gangsters. Secondary characters include a gambler who is an undercover Pinkerton gumshoe and a little person whose hand lost in a maritime accident has been replaced with a curious assistive device: an iron ball on a chain. The action is violent, some of the jokes are definitely of the guy variety.

Recommended for those readers who find no problem dipping into mystery genres outside the cozy zone.  

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply