Sex and Death, I Suppose, by Michael Colonnese.
THE SYNOPSIS - Pete Lombardo is a down-on-his-luck private investigator who takes photos of real estate on the side. During one of his real estate excursions, he happens upon a dead body and his P.I. instincts take over. Unfortunately, so do his survival instincts and he fails to properly report the crime scene.
His girlfriend, a psychoanalyst (and also his therapist), recommends Pete as a P.I. to an elderly woman who believes her husband - a former mayor and dead for 50 years - was murdered. Pete doesn't want the job, but because of the troubles stemming from his aborted photography, he needs the money.
The police, the mob, and a cadre of lesbian Muslim terrorists soon make finding and harming Mr. Lombardo their ultimate goal. What has Lombardo uncovered? Even he doesn't know.
THE DISCLAIMER - I'll keep the synopsis at that, for I need to confess something: I've known Michael Colonnese since 1999 and want you to go out and buy his book. It's a quick and enjoyable read (though there are things I don't like... I'll get to those below) and entirely worthy of a debut novel (quality-wise, I'd rate it with Simmons' Song of Kali, despite their different genres). It's available through Amazon.com (click here). Disclaimer 2: I like parentheticals (they're cool).
THE REVIEW - There are quite a few things one takes away from this story. One is that, despite its reputation, Connecticut probably isn't a nice place to live. Another is that private investigators do not live a glamorous life.
The story is filled with over-the-top characters. Simply put, there isn't one "straight man" character in the entire work, and it somehow makes the whole thing strangely believable. There is no lack of three-dimension in these people and, as far-fetched as some of their quirks may seem, readers are likely to know someone in real life who suffers from similar neuroses as the population of Sex and Death, I Suppose does.
The aforementioned Pete Lombardo is a sleazy, self-centered imp of a man. Sort of. However a reader will wind up describing Lombardo's ambiguous ambiguity, he's an awesome character. Marlowe-light, with a healthy serving of irreverence (everyone knows how I feel about irreverence), and an obsession with sex and food that rivals Nigella Lawson.
Everyone else in the book, whether they are enemies or allies, is designed to clash with Lombardo in some way, shape, or form. If the essence of a good story is, in fact, dramatic conflict, the people Lombardo interacts with from the first page to the last page are good storytellers. Simply put, nothing is cut-and-dried for Lombardo, because nobody lets him cut and dry. Starting with Lombardo's girlfriend and ending with the novel's villain (whose identity may or may not surprise you), nobody acts in a predictable manner, for the reader or the protagonist. It does seem a little much at times, but overall, it's pretty fun (and funny) to sift through the relationships.
At several points in the book, the detailed narration can overwhelm the reader, but never will you be left with the impression that you don't know who the characters are, where they are, or what's immediately going on. Regardless of whether or not you find the narrative style too heavy, the plot, the tone, and the various characterizations are crystal clear throughout the entire book.
In short, Sex and Death, I Suppose is classic noir and pulp with a modern bent, and totally irreverent. Lombardo is a great protagonist and I, for one, would like to read more about him in the future.
*Complaint 1: the proofreaders at the publisher - if they even employ any - absolutely suck balls. There's easily an error at least every other page. Bad errors, too. Missing letters, fucked up punctuation, repeated words, changed words, wrong words... gah. Drove me bonkers (I discovered later that the proofreading/editing was farmed out to a firm in China... a firm run by non-English-speaking Chinese... true story).
*Complaint 2: Ignore the plot description on the cover. While it doesn't "lie" to the reader, it's extremely misleading and does nothing to help one want to read it.
Verdict: Read it.