In the year 1919 former police captain Joshua Oates, a veteran of World War I, starts a new life as a private investigator despite his excess drinking and horrible nightmares from the war. A new case leads to a sinister plot of kidnapping, murder and revenge.
Plot: This lively and atmospheric detective novel features significant figures from the past. The author effectively and convincingly establishes the historical setting of 1919. Although the novel’s underlying theme of Russian-U.S. conflict is rather well-worn, the unique central concept shines.
Prose/Style: The prose is crisp, straightforward, and rendered in a hard boiled/noir style. Though solid, Leshin’s writing may benefit from additional detail, idiosyncrasy, as well as attention paid to establishing clarity and flow.
Originality: Having Marie Curie meet and befriend Harry Houdini is highly original and fresh. Bat Masterson also plays a fairly large role, while earlier in his career, protagonist Joshua is instrumental in bringing down Jack the Ripper. The ingredients for a unique and satisfying mystery are all here.
Character Development: Joshua Oates is a flawed and endearing protagonist who is drawn somewhat from detective genre tropes. There are a great many other characters, and Leshin does an admirable job of organizing them. While Houdini is charismatic and Curie enigmatic, additional characters require and deserve more detail, distinction, and development.
Date Submitted: May 28, 2020
Reviewed by Lit Amri for Readers' Favorite
In 1919, Boston City, Joshua Oates is a hard-drinking former police captain and WWI veteran who now works as a private investigator. His trouble starts when a woman named Beverly Bennett walks into his office and hires him for a case. Next thing he knows, he's framed for a murder, is kidnapped and suffers the wrath of someone's revenge. He also must stop a plot to use chemical weapons against the Communist government in Russia, and save an old friend.
Target of Fear (A Joshua Oates Adventure) by Steve Leshin is a good mix of noir-esque crime sleuth and historical fiction with a dose of romance. Leshin handles the 20th-century setting and the historical figures well, giving readers the flavor of the life and times of the era. Joshua Oates is no Sam Spade, but it's easy to root for this flawed but nonetheless heroic and gutsy protagonist.
Combined with a great line-up of historical figures, Harry Houdini, Marie Curie, Bat Masterson, and Damon Runyon, it adds a good depth to the extensive story line. Houdini, particularly, is a delight to read. The writing style is clear cut. Overall, this is an enjoyable, roller coaster sleuth read for fans of the genre.
Target of Fear: A Joshua Oates Adventure by Steve Leshin is exciting suspense novel that manages to serve double duty as both a hard-boiled detective yarn and lively historical fiction. Down and out, Joshua Oates is a compelling protagonist and narrator as he confronts past and present events that are as troubling as they are extraordinary. Set in 1919 in Boston and New York, Leshin captures the turbulent mood of that year well as America adjusts to the upheaval of international balances that followed World War I, the looming prohibition on alcohol, and the burgeoning optimism that will usher in the Roaring Twenties.
Leshin populates his novel with compelling historical figures, including Marie Curie, Harry Houdini, Bat Masterson, and Damon Runyon. In a novel with great scenes of derring-do, Houdini is a particular delight as he appears to have a bottomless bag of tricks to deal with any sticky situation. Marie Curie’s role is also fascinating as kidnappers look for her assistance in developing chemical weapons to affect the course of international events. In fact, as the mystery unfolds, Leshin incorporates absorbing and revealing anecdotes about historical figures that allow for a broader evocation of the era.
This period is wrapped neatly into a fun work of detective fiction. Without giving away too much, less say there’s an intriguing femme fatale, an unctuous and very credible villain, and some pretty brutal henchmen. There’s even a love interest in Angie Lang who in so many ways is a refreshing and sophisticated break from traditional detective fiction, particularly in one of her late decisions. The rush of the story particularly hits its stride on the streets of Old New York: with some climactic scenes at iconic attractions and interludes in venerable establishments like Katz’s, Smith’s, and Delmonico’s.
Target of Fear is filled with an impressive number of plot twists and turns, punctuated by a terrific and ironic surprise ending. Ultimately, the historical figures and evocations give this novel an additional layer that makes it stand above other works of the genre. Target of Fear is a fun, enriching read.