Genre: Crime / Mystery / Noir
Publisher: Crime Wave Press
Publication Date: 24th May 2016
REVIEWED BY ROBERT
A copy of Dead Men Do Come Back was sent to Confessions of a Reviewer by the publishers, Crime Wave Press, in exchange for an honest review. This is said review.
Like all mysteries, Dead Men Do Come Back begins with a body “bobbing in a mat of cigar butts, chewing tobacco tins and empty whiskey bottles.” Steven C. Levi wastes no time setting up his character (U.S. Marshal Gordon Whitford) and the situation: the body of a seemingly no one washing up on the shore of Juneau Alaska, 1910.
Juneau is as much a character as those of flesh and blood Levi puts to paper; a place of hard drinking, whoring miners whose fates are governed by businessmen and tycoons, and who scrabble hard to dig a living out of the ground. 1910 is perhaps an interesting period to examine, given that in literary terms it’s often overshadowed by WWI and the changes that conflict brought about. This is a time when labour movements had yet to gain the widespread support they would enjoy, and women’s suffrage is still more than ten years off.
Yet Levi’s Alaska presents a vision of the then future of the 1920’s. Women can vote in the territory, which lends the novel something of a feminist slant. Prohibition also came to Alaska early, but those who want to ignore legally mandated abstinance of course step into the breach, presaging what the rest of America would go trough a decade or so later.
Being a murder mystery, the body is of course more than it seems. I think the term murder mystery perhaps doesn’t do the novel justice. It’s more like a noir. A protagonist up against it, unable to curb much of the hell raising which goes on in Juneau. A femme fatale in the shape of the dead man’s daughter in-law. Plans, turning within plans, turning within plans, turning within plans; which Whitford and we must piece together.
Levi is an Alaskan historian by trade and his sense of time and place feels genuine, something which thrillers or any narrative taking place in historical settings can sometimes miss. Populated with con-men, thieves, corrupt tycoons and those on the dodge at the edge of civilization, Levi’s setting is more than just window dressing. Alaska circa 1910 is woven into the plot, which prevents it from being bogged down in exposition dumps; all of which leads to a well paced and interesting read.
If I had one criticism, it would be that the plot is somewhat convoluted in its execution. Without giving too much away: gold is missing, or is it? Together with insurance scams and reimbursement and no one losing out. A set up for a gold heist, but those men in turn are being set up by unscrupulous mining magnates. Which is not to say any of this is unforgivable or proved detrimental to my enjoyment of the story. Often the plot of any thriller/mystery or noir hinges on its complexity and nothing being quite what it seems. Levi, being a non-fiction author by trade, can be forgiven for making what I would term a misstep, though it’s far from a sin in writing terms.
Overall, Dead Men Do Come Back is a solid and enjoyable piece of fiction, which doesn’t overstay its welcome. Populated with a cast of miscreants and good people, trying to make their way in a place and time where life was still short and hard compared to today. Levi doesn’t shy away from playing fast and loose with his characters, giving you enough to draw a clear image of each. I mean, what does the name Six-Shooter Harris conjure for you? Fantastcially realised setting, well thought out and dark characters make for one of the better pieces of crime fiction I’ve read in recent years.
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Why would someone kill a miner, freeze his body solid on a glacier and then drop it alongside the Juneau wharf, the one place where United States Marshal Gordon Whitford would be sure to find it?
Does it have anything to do with the 250 pounds of gold that have just been extracted from the Alaska Gastineau Mine? And how were both the frozen body and the gold able to disappear off a steamship that made no stops between Juneau and Seattle?
Now there is another shipment of 250 pounds of gold bound for Seattle – along with the miner’s frozen body that has been recovered – again – floating just south of Juneau. Will Marshal Whitford be able to solve the murder and the robbery before the next shipment of gold vanishes into thin air?
Steven C. Levi’s debut novel is a riveting historical thriller set in 1910 during the Alaska gold rush.
Steven C. Levi is a sixty-something freelance historian and commercial writer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, his home for past 40 years. He has a BA in European History and MA in American history from the University of California Davis and San Jose State. He has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle.
Levi specializes in history and creative thinking. His historical specialty is the Alaska Gold rush. He has the only composite book on the Alaska Gold Rush, BOOM AND BUST IN THE ALASKA GOLD FIELDS, and his play “Fanny Quigley’s Place” has been a dinner theater presentation in Denali Park since 1995. His other Alaskan books include a history of Alaska’s bush pilot frontier, COWBOYS OF THE SKY, THE HUMAN FACE OF THE ALASKA GOLD RUSH and a forensic analysis of Alaska’s ghost ship, the Clara Nevada. The Clara Nevada sank in 1898 and came back up in 1908 – minus 100,000 ounces of gold.
In the field of creative thinking, he has developed a method of teaching people to be clever, to “think outside of the box.” His educational software won a $40,000 Creative Thinking in Motion prize from the University of Oklahoma in 2005. His approach is to stop “A or B Thinking” and find an alternative. As an example, developing a way for city to balance a budget without raising taxes or cutting services.
And for more about Steven, visit his site, or find him on social media: