Title: The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of
Author: Joseph Hansen
Publisher: Open Road Media
Amazon: Buy Link The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of
Genre: Mid-Century Mystery
Length: Novel (181 print pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Tj
Summary Review: Joseph Hansen has once again penned a work of fiction that masquerades as a well written and engrossing murder mystery, but underlying the suspects, the clues, the lies and road blocks thrown at Dave Brandstetter, is a life lesson that is subtle, but nonetheless universal and powerful – the transience of life.
The Blurb: In the small town of La Caleta, Dave Brandstetter investigates the murder of a very unpopular cop
When Ben Orton’s head is found bludgeoned by a heavy flower pot, the people of La Caleta are stunned—not because their police chief has been murdered, but because no one thought to do it sooner. A bruising, violent man, Ben had a commitment to order that did not always take the law into account. But as insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter is about to find out, the corruption in Ben’s police force did not die with him.
By the time Dave arrives in the fading fishing town, a young activist has already been arrested for the murder. Only Dave seems to care that the evidence against the accused is laughably thin. As the people of La Caleta try their best to thwart his investigation, Dave must do whatever it takes to catch Ben’s killer.
The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of is book four in the Dave Brandstetter Mystery series, which also includes Troublemaker and Skinflick.
A Dave Brandstetter Mystery Series
The Review: I recently read that it’s human nature to not dwell on the daily danger in our lives or our own mortality, for if we did, we would simply be unable to function. Our brains push these facts to our subconscious so we can focus on living. It’s a basic survival instinct. But occasionally, taking a step back and accepting that all we have is this day, this moment, and acknowledging that all of us are mortal, and will one day age and die is a good thing. Well, that is, if we also acknowledge the positive in our lives – most importantly the people that we love. Often these reflective moments are thrust upon us unexpectedly.
This is eloquently illustrated starting with the opening scene of The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of, where we find Dave on his way to investigate the death of a small town cop, passing an old, decaying cannery that he remembers from his youth as a bustling center of activity. Hansen’s beautifully descriptive prose is in evidence as he draws the reader into the scene. The hulking shell of the cannery refusing to yield to the elements feels like a character on it’s deathbed, refusing to die. And as I’ve come to expect from Mr. Hansen, this is merely imagery which mirrors what’s going on in Dave’s own life – his own brush with mortality as his father clings to life in a hospital miles away.
Dave’s lover Doug is also dealing with similar struggles – that being his own mother’s declining health. In an attempt to ease Doug’s guilt Dave says, “Look, Doug, this is old age, illness. Nothing you can fight – not and win. In this kind of bind there are no heroes, no villains. There are only victims.” To which Doug replies, “Oh, shut up”. Hansen presents the two similar scenarios – Dave’s father and Doug’s mother, to show not only the thin thread which binds us to life, but to contrast how very differently the two men deal with the situations. Dave’s view (although he does love his father) is far more pragmatic, whereas Doug is wracked with guilt and sadness. Most likely all the loss and death that Dave sees on a regular basis has made him a bit more jaded.
As for his investigation, what Dave encounters on his very first interview is a stoic and uncooperative widow, who is obviously not telling him the truth and expects Dave to fall in line as the whole town has always done for her late husband. The victim was a universally feared and disliked bully of a small town cop, who unfortunately left a legacy of lies and corruption hiding under the guise of upholding the law, even when the law was broken to do so.
Dave finds the town unwelcoming, and at times it seems dangerous to his personal safety as the cops, and the victim’s surviving relatives try to railroad Dave out of town by any means. At one point a frustrated Dave muses to himself when regarding the people around him at a bar that they are, “sensible people, people with a grip on their lives, people able to mind their own business.” An interesting insight into what drives Dave to keep pursuing answers even at his own peril.
As has been the case in the previous books, Hansen continues illustrating life in the mid-century, both in general and specifically for Dave. When one of his suspects relays how his father reacted to his coming out, “looking at me made him want to vomit”, Dave remembers his own father’s reaction, “You’re full of surprises” to which Dave had replied, “I kept waiting for you to guess”. Although Dave and his father aren’t demonstrative, this just shows how much love there is between them. Carl Brandstetter just accepts Dave as he is. Dave is his son and he loves him unconditionally. A really brilliant piece of writing, revealing so much with so few words. I should mention, or perhaps warn you, that Hansen uses language that was common during that period, including derogatory terms for gays and African Americans.
I had started to think that maybe Dave wasn’t going to tie this mystery up in the end, but Hansen wrote a clever scene where Dave manipulates one of the suspects to get truth, and there’s a very suspenseful final scene that had me on the edge of my seat. Both were nicely written and made for an exciting and satisfying conclusion.
“The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of” continues in the fine tradition of Hansen’s previous work – an interesting mystery with well drawn characters, beautiful prose and an underlying universal life lesson tying it all together. Highly recommended.