Friday, October 29, 2010

FRIDAY-ANYTHING GOES: Hazard by Gardiner Harris

Here is a book that is completely out of the norm for me—Hazard by Gardiner Harris. I read it for two reasons: 1) It is written by an author with a connection to Kentucky (lived in Hazard for four years as a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal), and 2) It opens with a coal mining accident. Together, that seemed compelling enough to tempt me into the realm of a contemporary mystery.

MSHA Inspector Will Murphy is sent in to investigate a "routine" inundation in a mine that, coincidentally or not so coincidentally, is owned by his own family’s corporation, now run by his brother Paul. Will has been ousted from the business ever since the death of his younger brother in an accident. That accident has always been blamed on Will. And, since then, Will has let everything in his life run on a downhill course. He drinks heavily and his marriage is a shambles. Will doesn’t take his job as an investigator very seriously, but it doesn’t seem as though anyone at MSHA expects him to. The place is rife with corruption. Because inundations, even those with resulting fatalities, are recognized as unfortunate, unavoidable rare occurrences, no one thinks the investigation will amount to much. But Will starts to notice little things that are amiss. Rather than dismiss them, he digs in and begins to investigate for real.

This is family drama and detective story rolled into one. The detective was not "hard-boiled" but worn out. And it was interesting to see him reawaken to take an interest in life as he began fighting his way through the maze of clues. Although I anticipated the bad guy before the detective did, it was only shortly before, and it didn’t detract from the excitement of the ending.

The author also makes a point of demonstrating the corruption in the mining industry and the environmental devastation that follows. This is all in the context of the storyline, so the tension of the plotting is not interrupted for the message. Moreover, it’s an important message. So the book delivers both a well-plotted fast-paced mystery, and something a little bit deeper to think about after turning the final page.

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