Monday, October 29, 2018

Review: Charlesgate Confidential

My timing couldn't have been worse for reading Charlesgate Confidential, Scott Von Doviak's debut novel from Hard Case Crime.  The news has been filled with nothing but hate and reports of man's vile inhumanity against man, so an intricately plotted crime novel when I probably was in a mood better suited for a Calgon-Take-Me-Away Fairy Tale Romance made for slow going.  Also, the story is set in Boston and I had to read about the effing Red Sox more than was tolerable.  What would be tolerable?  Not reading about them at all.  But at least Von Doviak had the good sense to set part of this story in 1986.  God bless you Bill Buckner.

This is an ambitious novel that features not one, not two, but three dueling timelines.  I've seen this go horribly awry with authors just tackling two timelines, but three?!  And while it did take some time for me to sink into the story, the intricacy of the plotting and how the author weaves all three timelines together is pretty remarkable.

The story opens in 1946 when two brothers and their cousin rob a mob-connected poker game at the Charlesgate Hotel.  Naturally, they can't keep their mouths shut about it - so the guy who runs the poker game, Dave T, catches up with them.  But instead of burying them in concrete on some construction site, he essentially blackmails them into pulling off a heist for him.  They lift some priceless paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and, of course, it all goes horribly wrong.

In 1986 the Charlesgate Hotel is now a dormitory for Emerson College.  Tommy Donnelly is a student who can actually write, so the school paper assigns him a series profiling the Charlesgate.  There's a slew of rumors, ghost stories and urban legends, and hey - Tommy lives there.  He starts digging into Charlesgate's past, stumbles across the story of the Gardner heist, and the fact that the paintings were never recovered.

In 2014 the Charlesgate has been turned into luxury condos and a real estate agent showing a prospective client a vacant unit is strangled for her trouble, her keys to the entire building stolen.  Detective Martin Coleman catches the case, stumbles across the Gardner link, and hits pay dirt when a Charlesgate resident returns from a business trip to find her condo has been broken into.  Jackie St. John was a former student at Emerson, lived at the Charlesgate in 1986, and Tommy Donnelly was one of her friends.

It takes a while to get there, but eventually the author begins to mesh all three timelines to bring the entire story behind the art heist into focus.  What went wrong, why, and more importantly - what happened to those paintings?  What I liked best about this story is that it kept me guessing.  Everything about this crime story was a mystery.  How the author was going to bring the three timelines together, the twists along the way, and finally what happened to the stolen paintings.  I had no idea where the author was taking me until I actually got there, and after a lifetime of reading suspense novels (oh, just 30 years is all...), it's always a small miracle when an author can surprise me about...well, everything.

I really wasn't in the right head space to read this when I did, but it's a really well done novel, the kind that should get award recognition.  Despite my intense loathing of the Red Sox, there's no denying Von Doviak's world building and the plotting of this story is top notch.  He's set the bar high with his first novel.  I eagerly await the second.

Final Grade = B+


azteclady said...

You have just sold me. ::off to find a copy::

Wendy said...

AL: It's the weekend, so Wendy must be catching up on blog comments! Anyway, this was pretty well reviewed, so finding a library copy should be fairly easy. It was just published in hard cover in September, so the pricing reflects that.