Thursday, April 08, 2010

Mystery Book Review: Drink the Tea by Thomas Kaufman

Mysterious Reviews: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller and Crime Novel Reviews, edited by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books


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A Willis Gidney Mystery

St. Martin's Minotaur (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-312-60730-X (031260730X)
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-60730-2 (9780312607302)
Publication Date: March 2010
List Price: $24.99

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Drink the Tea by Thomas Kaufman
Buy Drink the Tea by Thomas Kaufman

Review: Washington DC private investigator Willis Gidney searches for a buddy's 25-year-old daughter -- a girl he never knew existed until a few days ago -- in Drink the Tea, the first mystery in this series by Thomas Kaufman and winner of the 2008 PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest.

The buddy is Steps Jackson, who plays sax in a local jazz band, and the girl's name is Bobbie. Her mother may have been a former girlfriend of Steps, first name Colette, last name and current location unknown; and the last known reference to Bobbie is from a high school classmate. Not much to go on. Still, Gidney starts his inquiry and shortly after finding Colette and speaking to her, she's murdered, Gidney arrested for the crime. Released on bail by Colette's husband, who hires him to find the real killer, Gidney then finds himself pursued by a couple of thugs determined to interfere with his investigation -- permanently. Gidney teams up with Lilly, a computer programmer and internet whiz, and together they uncover a number of seemingly random facts related to the case, but none of which seem to help them in finding Bobbie.

Drink the Tea is a very good mystery, but first and foremost, at least in this initial book in the series, it's about introducing Willis Gidney -- which isn't even his real name. Refusing to give his name to the authorities when he's arrested as a youth, they assign him the last names of the two cops that brought him in. There are lengthy passages on Gidney's time spent in a "residential youth center", his criminal activities as a pre-teen, and of the foster home of a D.C. detective in which he lived for an extended period. As an adult, Gidney is brazenly self-confident, an honorable cad (if that's not too much of an oxymoron). For example, unable to find a parking spot near a government building, he lifts a police placard from a nearby parked cruiser for his own car. Here's a passage on what happens next.

I returned to the Capitol Hill police lot in time to see a D.C. tow truck remove the unmarked police cruiser from which I had removed the cardboard POLICE slip. I really had intended to return it, but now it might raise a few eyebrows if I did. Oh well. I could make much better use of the POLICE slip than they could.

Much of the appeal of this book depends on whether one takes to the character of Willis Gidney.

As for the plot, strip away all the personal backstories and there's not much left. Which is a little disappointing, because it's a first rate, multi-faceted mystery with all sorts of interconnecting threads that will challenge readers to untangle. At one point Lilly says, "We start with a right-wing ideologue, then a multinational conglomerate, and now we're, like, on to hemp and the EPA. I hope you don't mind me asking, but a girl gets a little curious."

While getting to know Willis Gidney is important, much of the historical context that is presented could have been spread over several books, leaving a little more time here to spend with him on what is quite a clever investigative journey.

Special thanks to St. Martin's Minotaur for providing a copy of Drink the Tea for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Willis Gidney is a born liar and rip-off artist, an expert at the scam. Growing up without parents or a home, by age twelve he is a successful young man, running his own small empire, until he meets Shadrack Davies. That’s Captain Shadrack Davies, of the D.C. Police. Davies wants to reform Gidney and becomes his foster father. Though he tries not to, Gidney learns a small amount of ethics from Shad -- just enough to bother a kid from the streets for the rest of his life. Now Gidney is a PI, walking those same streets. So it's no surprise that when his closest friend, jazz saxophonist Steps Jackson, asks Gidney to find his missing daughter, Gidney is compelled to say yes -- even though she's been missing for twenty-five years. He finds a woman who may be the girl’s mother -- and within hours she turns up dead. The police accuse Gidney of the murder and throw him in jail.

Maybe Gidney should quit while he’s behind. But when his investigation puts him up against a ruthless multinational corporation, a two-faced congressman, and a young woman desperate to conceal her past, Gidney has no time left for second thoughts. In fact, he may have no time left at all.

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