In our continuing quest to read mysteries connected with locations of future travel, we found John Baker’s Death Minus Zero about some criminal goings on in the ancient northern English city of York.
This volume gets violent enough at times that you may occasionally cover your eyes. Norman Bunce escapes from prison in a lucky incident involving the wreckage of his bus. You’re kind of pulling from him for a moment or two, till he pulls off his first change of clothes. That will be the first time for turning your head. Why read something so repellent? Well, it’s not at like that as a whole.
We follow Norman’s escape route till he eventually comes to York to look up a girl who did him some unspecified wrong back when. He runs afoul of a Detective named Sam Turner, an alcoholic who’s trying to put his life back together and who has formed partnerships with a couple of other strays. Their detective work is skillful but desultory, and they pursue it in off times when they aren’t concerned with romance and other important matters.
What makes this book fascinating is its insight into the workings of the criminal mind. Only one other writer I know of—Les Edgerton—is as insightful about why bad guys do what they do. Many writers spend gallons of ink exploring motive and background for their villains. Truth is, there’s not a lot of that goes on among the lawbreaking class according to numerous inside sources of mine. Criminals respond to the needs and impulses of the moment rather than exploring their deepest needs and developing elaborate plans. They’ll rob or kill because when opportunity meets inclination and for not much other reason. Norman is exactly like that, and it’s Sam Turner’s gift to understand and predict the directions those impulses are liable to take. There may not be deep motives, but there are patterns, and he who predicts the patterns wins the game, grabs the crook, and saves the day for the innocent and unwary.
Death Minus Zero is an intriguing, if sometimes brutal adventure, full of suspense and interesting characters, and you’ll be more than happy you went along for the ride.