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Last of the Independents: Vancouver Noir

Last of the Independents: Vancouver Noir - Sam Wiebe Received a copy of Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review

"One of my grandpa's favorite sayings: 'When you've only got a hammer you treat every problem as a nail.' Sometimes your options aren't limited by your tools so much as by the mindset you bring to them. But that doesn't mean that mindset is necessarily wrong. Sometimes the problem really does call for a big tucking hammer blow."

A man born into a family that thrives on fighting a cities crimes and injustices has taken his conservative disposition and has transformed it into a more modern day, millennial approach to policing.Ex-Vancouver police detective Michael Drayton has decided to open up his own private investigation agency in hopes of staying in the game while shirking the bureaucratic burdens and red tape that come with the territory. Mike has said it himself that he hates authority even though he used to be a person of that ilk, he needs the freedom to go away at any time for a refresher without being reprimanded by a superior. Mike was at his most comfortable when he was bending the rules in order to obtain a confession from supposed criminals or getting justice for clients and their respective families. Hastings Investigation Services is located in an office he rented and has established a firm he opened in Vancouver that specializes in missing persons, but by all accounts in this book he is willing to take on the most vile of cases. Being a more action-oriented person with an old-fashioned approach to investigation he is not naive to the fact that he needs more new-age and modern support in order to provide a better service for his clients.

Mike has hired on a college student Katherine Hough on a "come in when your available basis" to provide clerical work, database investigation, and social media expertise. She is a closet feminist and is angered by the antiquated notion that she is a secretary, so for her sake Mike refers to her as a junior partner of the agency, which meets her approval. The last member of the team is Ben Loeb. About two and a half years ago Mike was hired to work on a missing persons case of a little nine-year-old girl named Cynthia. The problem was that Cynthia went missing five years ago. Mike didn't dismiss the idea of him handling the case, but made no bones about it with the family that the success rate of finding Cynthia was slim and none. Ben is Cynthia's brother and with their mother Mrs.Loeb, Mike has worked exhaustively to this day in trying to find an answer for this cold case. Over the course of the thirty months Mike has been on the case, Ben has spent a lot of time at the office with Mike. Ben was drawn to the office as a means to stay close to his sister, connect with her spirit wherever it may be, or even as a "Fortress of Solitude" during the chaos that the day-to-day could bring. During this time Ben has become a celebrated video game writer and has used his expertise into helping Mike with anything he can provide of service, not to mention his supreme acting skills. In my opinion Ben deserved some more attention in the book. He was an underrated character that brought an interesting perspective to the story. He was a gaming and film nerd, that was physically on the heavy side. He provided some comic relief and was able to apply a learned stoicism in the face of imminent death. He was a good student that didn't fit the description of a private investigator but learned from examples in his experiences with Mike.

" 'All right, but say we flip the polarity. What'd you rather be, horribly in debt or have everybody hate your guts?'
'I'm already in debt.'
'Say it was a choice between insurmountable, crushing poverty, and being as hated as Hitler.'
'Debt, probably. Least with a good name I can earn.'
'But that's my point,' Ben said. 'If you're the kind of person who doesn't care what they're famous for as long as they get moved to the head of the chow line, that's one thing. But if we're talking about reputation - people knowing your name stands for something, rather than just knowing your name - that's a fame that's worth something.'

The story centers on a twelve-year-old child named Django James Szabo who recently went missing outside of a downtown pawn shop. His father Cliff Szabo is a professional seller of junk goods, but one man's junk is another person's treasure. Cliff would take his son out of school once a month to give him a lesson in the real world. During one of these impromptu take your child to work day's, Cliff's car with his son in it vanished out of thin air. Some believe he was abducted, some people believe he drove away to get away from his father, some believe it was a carjacking gone wrong. Mike is hired on to continue the investigation, but he soon realizes that there are a lot of chefs in the kitchen, and he will have to work with the people he was desperately trying to get away from.

"Sometimes after seeing an ex you think, 'Thank God I dodged that bullet.' Sometimes it starts a pain in your guts because she looks so beautiful, so at peace. That wrenching of the innards is the knowledge that her happiness is predicated on not being with you. What I felt was a loss without longing. Sometimes you reread a favorite book, particularly one you treasured when you were young. You meet the same golden characters who utter the same witty banter and jump through the same startling and pity-evoking hoops. The book's brilliance hasn't diminished on rereading, but you are different. You've moved outside the circumference, and you know that as much as you may admire it, you will never recapture the feeling that the book was translating yourself to you as you read. So that even knowing it by heart, it feels strange. That was the feeling she evoked: we were beyond each other now, and contentedly so."

With my experiences reading books in the noir genre, Michael Drayton shares some common characteristics with some of my favourites. Some characteristics I find are too hardened by life's injustices or are too hurt to have trust in others. Mike lives on the lighter side of the extreme. He prefers to be a lone wolf that answers to no one but his paying clients, he is charitable with his time and money to the impoverished, he is a dog lover that will go the extra mile to demonstrate it, he has a short-fuse, he is a connoisseur of older music ignorant to what's in the Top40, he is unforgiving when crossed, and lives a relatively clean life... In the end I found him to be a tried, tested, and true noir investgator. This book will fit comfortably with the other noir novels that are currently taking up residence on your bookshelves. The author does a tremendous job in letting the reader experience the vast beauty as well as the unseemly aspects that Vancouver has to offer. My main problem with this novel was that it didn't stand out from the crowd it merely just fit in.

"Blindness from affection is still blindness."