It’s a cold, hard New England that recovering drunk, ex-con, former NASCAR driver and ace mechanic Conway Sax lives in, and a howling wind blows right through it. Yet, in a world of dysfunctional families, hardscrabble homes, petty criminals, and substance abuse, you’ve got to admire his steely determination to be a better man—to his girlfriend and her children, to the alcoholic father who abandoned him as a child, and even to the singularly obnoxious Tander Phigg, a wealthy member of the AA group that helped Conway finally get sober.
Tander asks Conway for help retrieving his precious 1990 Mercedes from a shady New Hampshire auto repair joint, and that’s when things head south. When Phigg’s body is discovered shortly after Conway’s failed attempt to reclaim the vehicle, it becomes clear that there’s a lot more to this than a “simple favor.” Soon Conway, already balancing a load of personal problems, gets messed up in murder, a missing family fortune, the New York City art scene of 50 years ago, and a drug smuggling ring that’s essentially the French Connection in reverse, run by a vicious Quebecois dealer known only as “Montreal.”
The tough, working class setting and the no-nonsense, wisecrack-free tone will get under your fingernails, and fans of George Pelecanos will dig the eye for workingman, hands-on detail that race car driver and first-time novelist Ulfelder exhibits—whether Conway is drywalling a house, stumbling through a murder investigation, or simply trying to do the right thing, there’s a veracity and empathy that shows the author himself isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty; or apply a little elbow grease when it comes to plotting. The one bum note in this auspicious debut is when the author overplays the Everyman schtick by tossing in a few too many pop culture references that first person narrator Conway claims to not understand. Such disingenuousness rings false when coming from such a true blue kinda guy. More, please.