Opening paragraph, Last Dance:
“She lies pale and light as shaved ice. Her hair spreads like a black flame across the pillow. Classical music plays in whispers. Schubert, I think. The place is scattered with toe shoes, tights, diet pills, opioids, suitcases, dresses, scarves, and empty bottles of Stoli. I snap on gloves and kneel beside her, study the small, nude map of her body.”
We are immediately back in the weighted world of detective Sam Carver. In L.A. In the hands of smooth storyteller Jeffrey Fleishman.
There is no blood or bruising on the dancer’s body. Only a “slight frozen shiver on her face, as if she were bracing against a sudden wind.” She is, Carver thinks, “a broken bit of magic fallen from a music box.” Suicide? Carver thinks not.
The victim is a world-famous Russian ballerina. There are few leads. The new case looks like a puzzle, but Carver is still grappling with the one that got away. Her name is Dylan Cross. (In My Detective.) Cross, Carver’s boss tells him, “was a clever, messed-up, vicious broad.” Dylan Cross was obsessed with Sam Carver.
But Carver is a dedicated cop. He’ll give the case of ballerina Katrina Ivanova everything he’s got. In fact, we are deep in Carver’s skin from first sentence to last. Carver likes to “chase the odd angle.” He doesn’t like to explain why a certain dark alley appeals to him. Shortly after Katrina’s body is taken to the morgue, her body vanishes. No body (and the theft was pre-autopsy) means big problems. There’s the case, of course, but also the reputation of the whole department.
Leads include Katrina’s neighbor and friend. There’s a writer who might have been getting ready to put together Katrina’s story. And a cellist who would play while Katrina danced in her loft. But he turns up dead, too. Overdose? Or staged overdose? And then the FBI shows up. Carver learns there were Russians pursuing Katrina, too. And a tight Los Angeles noir suddenly explodes to Brussels and South Sudan. The locations change, but Carver carries his world-weary gloom wherever he goes. And then back to L.A. There’s a big-shot movie producer. Oh, and connections track back to one Vladimir Putin and issues around hacking in the 2016 election. Along the way, Carver picks up Officer Lily Hernandez as a partner. Lily was the uniform cop on duty at the murder scene of Dylan Cross’s second victim. Lily is tough-as-nails, athletic. She has a witness who could provide key information. Until …
Fleishman’s pace is steady. He makes sure that Carver, well, slices it all into manageable pieces. Carver pauses. Reflects. Carver notes what people say and he notes what questions they don’t ask. There’s a ton of plot here for a brisk read, but Carver’s quiet moments are as interesting as the whodunit. Carver has an issue with time. He sometimes feels suspended by it. He’s got a “weird aloofness.” And knows it. And there’s always Dylan Cross to ponder. She is never far from Carver’s thoughts.
I think that’s the key to the success of Last Dance—equal parts noir gravity, well-rounded and well-grounded character, and high-stakes plot.
Familiar turf? Sure. Does the occasional line of dialogue make you wish you could hear Humphrey Bogart read it (as Sam Spade)? You bet. But we read on, thoroughly immersed, because it’s so well done.
Previously reviewed: My Detective