Grind Joint is the latest Penns River detective novel from Dana King, and it’s better than Worst Enemies, which I read (sort of by mistake) and reviewed recently. As the subtitle suggests, King’s setting is still a small town outside Pittsburgh in the Pennsylvania rust belt. Our man Detective Dougherty (hereafter known as “Doc” because you pronounce “Dougherty” “Dockerty.”) is an ex-military cop who has returned to his home town because he loves it and wants to keep it livable even through hard times.
Since many businesses are shut down and boarded up, Penns River is a natural target for nefarious dealings. Thus, when a guy with money wants to open a casino in an abandoned mall, the council jumps at the chance. Oh, dear. Turns out this guy doesn’t have so much money and has brought in some Russian mobsters to augment his capital. Plus the local drug dealers have their turf disrupted. Plus, Doc’s beloved police chief has a heart attack, opening the way for the bad-guy next-in-line to come in as acting chief and gum up the works good.
Sounds good, and it is. King’s writing is excellent, keeping us in suspense all the way. His interrogation scenes are worthy of Elmore Leonard. They really are. And all the hanging threads left over from Worst Enemy, still bothering Doc, who hasn’t given up on them, add dimension.
i still think King has major problems with dialect. As a general rule, I think it’s better to give a flavor with a few words and expressions and let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest. If you try to render the speech exactly, it comes off as phony even if it’s accurate. Thus, a major black character is pretty much ruined because he sounds like a crude stereotype rather than a genuine human being. The Russians sound okay to me because King uses standard foreign-speaker construction mistakes–inversions and malaprops–which, again, give the flavor without trying to duplicate.
This is a flaw I hope he corrects in the future because it takes the shine off a pretty flashy novel.