Kensington Books, $26.00, 335 pages, ISBN 978-1-4967-0971-4
Before Germany was reunified some thirty years ago, it was divided into east and west halves after World War II. West Germany was controlled by England, France and the United States, and was democratic. East Germany was under the auspices of the Soviet Union and was communist, dictatorially ruled and collective in nature . . . the state owned and ruled everything. It was totalitarian. The individual existed only to serve the state in what was sometimes referred to as a “workers paradise,” where everyone was equal . . . equally poor, equally unhappy and equally downtrodden . . . and that included elite athletes, who were expected to perform at the highest levels and win, to prove the superiority of communism. In order to give those athletes a winning edge, they were doped; injected with steroids and human growth hormones from childhood. The competitors, or their parents, had no say in the matter.
Against Nature, by Casey Barrett is the second installment in his critically acclaimed series featuring an almost Olympic swimmer and ex-con tough guy named Lawrence “Duck” Darley, a hard drinking, unlicensed PI with a nose for trouble and an affinity for hopeless causes.
As the novel begins, it finds the age twenty-something Duck giving swimming lessons to an eight year-old boy named Stevie, and living the boy’s mother. She’s a woman in her forties who has a three-hundred million dollar divorce settlement, a snotty disposition and expensive tastes, from whom Darley accepts an occasional envelope of cash for “services rendered.” They’re in bed together when Duck gets an emergency text from Cass, his partner in the first Duck Darley mystery, Underwater. Her boyfriend has fallen to his death in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York, and she needs help. The cops are saying that he jumped, but Cass thinks he was pushed, because he was writing a book about doping by the East Germans, and the present-day whereabouts and whatabouts of the doctors who did the deeds. That’s when the hard-drinking Duck gets kicked out of the penthouse on his butt, and the threats, beatings and murders begin in this fascinating, propulsive and relentless novel in which every page is compelling and action-packed. You’ll find yourself pulling for the heroic anti-hero with all the good—and bad—qualities, as he plumbs the money filled, dark and evil world of modern athletic competition, seeking truth, justice and a fair fight. If you like the work of Ken Bruen and his Jack Taylor series, you’ll love Casey Barrett’s Duck Darley. The MBR can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!