Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.


Kevin Allen
Murder Can Be Fatal
IGNACIO PIUS DOWNS, better known as IGG, is down on his luck. Once a busy private eye, he’s now nearly broke. After hooking up with the ex-wife of an abusive homicide detective, JAKE GARCIA, the cop smeared Igg’s name and business. Now Igg’s now living in a rundown Airbnb in Koreatown in Los Angeles, with an old woman and her demonic dog, OSCAR, who hates Igg. The woman dies, leaving the house to the dog. If Igg wants a place to live, he has to be nice to the dog, whom he renames GARBAGE. It’s a strained relationship, at best. A local sixteen-year-old girl, FRANKIE, breaks into Igg’s house. Frankie needs help. Her uncle, CARLOS, has disappeared, and Frankie needs Igg to find him. Igg notices Frankie has a gang tattoo, and he asks her why she doesn’t ask her gang to find Carlos. She on parole and can’t associate with any of her former peeps. Igg tries to throw her out. But Frankie is one tough kid. She threatens to accuse Igg with the rape of a minor if he doesn’t help her. One damaged soul recognizes another, and Igg agrees to help her. Igg and Frankie find Carlos in a cheap hotel, dead of sliced wrists. On the bed next to the body is a knife with a crucifix on the handle. The hotel clerk says Carlos had one visitor, a priest. But Igg isn’t so sure it is suicide. He photographs the knife, and Igg and Frankie take off to tell Carlos’ former foster kid, G, about his foster dad’s death. G recognizes the knife as belonging to a pusher, SALO, who likes to dress like a priest. Igg and G pay a visit to Salo. The guy’s not much help, because he’s also dead. Before Jake can investigate further, the cops show up. Not just any cops, it’s Jake. G gets away, but Igg is arrested for Salo’s murder. Jake wants to hold Igg, but he has no evidence. Velma throws up and threatens to get Internal Affairs involved if Jake doesn’t release Igg. The bodies mount up as Igg investigates clue after clue. All clues point to a “rogue cop” as the murderer. It’s clear to Igg that Jake is the killer. Or is he?
In this series-starter, down-on-his-luck PI Igg Downs, stuck in a grim section of Los Angeles, is trying to dig his way out of a pile of trouble: his landlady has died, leaving everything to her vicious dog, making Downs his caretaker. But the landlady's great-nephew is trying to evict him anyway, and he's up against brutal cop Jake, who has never forgiven Downs for sleeping with his wife. In the middle of all this, teenage Frankie, on parole from gang activities, tries to engage Downs to find her missing uncle. Her plight pierces his cynical attitude, and they form an uneasy partnership. Downs pulls himself together to help Frankie—and perhaps to achieve redemption.

Allen has a gift for characterizations, and best of all is Downs, who narrates the story in a sardonic first person, admits to clumsiness and knows when he’s outmatched. He's generally pessimistic, but he shows he's not as hard-bitten as he pretends: "People and their feelings were messy. That is why I avoided both religiously." Allen also does a wonderful job with the semi-adult Frankie. Downs sees this right away, and their relationship—prickly at first—comes across as warm and real. Even minor characters come to life in vibrant detail, such as Mamacita, for whom hot peppers solve all problems. The noirish, sometimes playful Raymond Chandler patter is often polished and memorable, though at times it comes on thick, and the plot gets convoluted, but the engaging cast and steady surprises nimbly carry the story.

Allen gets full marks for showing the part of Los Angeles that isn't Hollywood, where the gangs rule. We see Frankie's dilapidated neighborhood, whose downtrodden residents make attempts to beautify it: one owner was "either colorblind or spent way too much time and money at the local weed shop." In the end, Downs navigates through the neighborhood and its denizens to an ending that is both shocking and satisfying, leaving readers to hope for a sequel.

Takeaway: A down-on-his-luck PI finds that a scrappy teen may be his ticket to redemption.

Great for fans of: Robert B. Parker’s Night Passage, Benjamin Black’s The Silver Swan.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B+