Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Damnation Drives Us to Series' End

The conclusion of the matter is what seems to float or sink most story series. Even if previous installments are watertight, no one will much care if the ending is as shipshape as a sieve. (Ahem.) Readers will forgive a lot -- everything from hackneyed characters to tired plots to familiar themes -- if you manage to engage them in some other way. But squander their time with a slapdash ending, and every writerly sin will transmute from venial to mortal in a heartbeat. A lot rides on a finale, and so I was nervous when I picked up Andrew Klavan's Damnation Street, the last Weiss and Bishop book. Would it consummate the plots of the previous two or end in a less than satisfying manner?

Weiss Investigations has gone out of business in everything but name. Strangled by bad publicity after rogue investigator Jim Bishop broke both contract and the law, the firm's flow of clients has wheezed to a near stop. But rather than attempt to drum up new business, owner Scott Weiss vanishes, simply disappears as though the earth had swallowed him up. Bishop thinks he knows where his former boss has gone -- after Julie Wyatt, a prostitute of nigh ineffable beauty. And that's a problem, because Weiss isn't the only one drawn to her. There's also the man who calls himself John Foy, a stone-hearted killer whose kindest deeds look like direst hate, a man who has sworn to claim Wyatt as his own.

The first two Weiss and Bishop mysteries jerked readers back and forth genre-wise, shifting from over-the-top actioner to hardboiled fable. Damnation Street continues the trend, Klavan writing it as a gritty thriller largely stripped of previous romanticism. You know what? It works. Far from feeling jarring, the change to a meaner, more murderous story reconciles more than a few questions about Weiss' yearning for Wyatt and her toleration of his affections. Seems the angel-faced whore possesses motives that are less than holy, while the hangdog old PI is filled with darker stuff than just lovelorn longing. Not that the novel entirely lacks lighter moments. A passage wherein the narrator, a fictionalized version of Klavan himself, discovers a client's daughter has begun (gasp!) secretly attending a house church contains some of the funniest lines I've read in ages. A worthwhile conclusion to an engaging series.

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