Ghosts Are Gone

Well, this morning I managed to finish reading Curtis Ippolito’s marvelous Burying the Newspaper Man. It obviously shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did to read; my mind has been so squarely focused on 1) writing the new Scotty and 2) managing my life that when it came time to relax and enjoy myself, my mind wasn’t really able to focus a whole lot on reading. This is not by any means a judgment on the book or its writing but rather an explanation; since the pandemic started I have these bouts of time where I simply cannot focus my mind enough to read fiction. I don’t know if it’s trauma from the onslaught of horrible and horrific things going on in the country and the world, or me getting older, or what; but when this happens I generally go back to things that are easier for my brain to focus on–documentaries, non-fiction, comic books (I recently reread the first two volumes of The Sandman; more on that later)–and eventually my ability to focus on reading fiction comes back. I think it actually has more to do with my ADHD getting worse as I get older; there’s always too many things for my brain to think about and not forget that it doesn’t settle down enough to read for escape.

I don’t remember where I first heard about this book, but I bought a copy–it’s always fun to find brand new writers, not just brand-new-to-me writers–and the plot of this one sounded particularly interesting. Then I got to meet the author at Left Coast Crime and had some nice conversations–which made reading the book even more of a risk; I met and liked the author, what if I don’t like the book?

Constant Reader, those fears were for naught.

A piercing alarm blared, sending a surge of dopamine straight to the reward center of Marcus Kemp’s brain. He squeezed the steering wheel tight with both hands, ears and lips tingling. Flipped on the cruiser’s siren and lights and spun the wheel, whipping a U-turn, early morning on Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, San Diego.

His hypnotic, one-handed computer-key clacking had paid off again: entering plate numbers into the county’s database in search of stolen vehicles. He had spotted a meter maid ticket on the windshield of a newer model, blue Nissan Altima parked on the west side of the street–thirty yards south of the lifeguard station. Ran the plate number and got an immediate hit. The match set off the unrelenting, high-pitched alarm that would cause the average person to jump through their skin, like when a smoke detector goes off in the dead of night.

Grinning, Marcus swung the cruiser into an open street parking spot, across from Ocean Beach Hotel on the corner. The sidewalk-lining light poles still beamed yellow skirts onto the concrete below.

Isn’t that last sentence amazing? I mean, wow.

Marcus Kemp is a San Diego (Ocean Beach beat) cop who enjoys doing his job–primarily because he likes helping people–and has a pretty good life. He has an on-again off-again relationship with a woman he cares about and the feelings are reciprocated (the off-again thing is all on him, because, well, issues) and with a bit of a traumatic past that he’s trying to put behind him. But in the trunk of this stolen car is the body a newspaper editor from his past, his childhood to be exact: this is the man who sexually abused him when he was eleven. So, even though this isn’t his case, he can’t help but get himself involved in the investigation–even if it means losing his job. As he tries to figure out how his abuser wound up dead in San Diego in the trunk of a stolen car, he has to relive his own painful past while trying very hard not to let it destroy or affect his present–and the twists and turns take the narrative in places I couldn’t have imagined it would as I read along, but was very glad it did. This was a very tricky plot to pull off, and a very ambitious one for a debut author–one experienced authors might have trouble getting to work. The fact it does work perfectly is a tribute to Ippolito’s ability.

But the strongest part, to me, of the book is the authorial voice. The rhythm of the words, the interesting and original imagery, and oh-so-creative use of words, sentence and paragraph structure, that not only keeps the intensity of the story building but wows the reader with its raw creativity. It’s noirish, but not completely dark; the subject matter is intense, and the reader can’t help pulling for Marcus to not only solve the crime but resolve his own history and come to terms with it so he can finally, at long last, move ahead with his life.

I can’t wait for Ippolito’s next book.

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