Ask The Right Question by Michael Z Lewin

Ask The Right QuestionAlbert Samson is not your typical private investigator. Working out of Indianapolis in the early seventies, he doesn’t carry a gun, isn’t excessively violent and, strangely, doesn’t seem to have any massive personality defects. He has an ex-wife and child – only off-page though – and a girlfriend – also off-page – which seem to be healthy relationships. It’s almost as if he doesn’t realise what a fictional PI is supposed to be like.

And then he gets a very atypical case. A fifteen year old schoolgirl, Eloise Crystal, has just discovered evidence, based on blood types, that the man who has purported to be her biological father for all of her life cannot be. So she wants Albert to track down the real father. Not the easiest case in the world given he has nothing but a blood test to go on and can’t tell anyone why he’s asking questions. And even if he finds the truth out – no crime has been committed. Has it?

Michael Z Lewin is not an author that I’ve come across before. He’s written twenty novels, eight of which feature Albert Sansom, of which this is the first from 1972. With the attention given to Dean Street Press and the British Library Crime Classics range bringing forgotten Golden Age works to our attention, I just want to give a little shout out to Bello Books for doing the same with forgotten works from more recent authors. Ann Cleeves’ early work, the Claire Malloy books of Joan Hess (which I must get back to soon), Jill McGown’s outstanding books, the list just goes on and on. So thanks for the good work and, also, thanks for the review copies.

As for this book, regular readers will know that “noir” isn’t my favourite genre, but I have been surprised recently – notably with Ross MacDonald’s The Chill. This is highly readable, doing a very good job of keeping the reader’s attention despite the apparent lack of any actual crime to investigate. The narrator has a nice tone, feeling like a real person, and his general lack of punching/shooting people is to be praised. His relationship (not that sort of relationship!) with Eloise is nicely handled and the other characters are nicely distinctive and similarly seem pretty human (with one notable, deliberate, exception).

And there’s a decent kick at the end of the tale, delivered just as the tale was starting to sag a little, but, alas, I saw it coming a mile off. And when a sharp plot turn appears right at the end, again, to me the resolution of that bit was obvious as well. Which let down a little what was still and enjoyable read and I may well be back to Albert Sansom in the future – let’s see what he does with a real crime to investigate. Well Worth A Look.

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7 comments

  1. tx for the recommendation. i pretty much gave up reading modern detective stories because of the sadism and gore; i think i’ll order this one and see how it goes. tx again…

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  2. Glad to hear you think this one “Well Worth A Look.” It’s sitting on my TBR pile–I picked up a couple of years ago when I was doing a reading challenge that required reading something set in your state (country–for non-US folk) and then promptly decided to read something else set in Indiana instead.

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  3. I recently re-read this one, which I’d probably class as his best. But I would have read all of Michael Lewin’s over the years, as he’s been around for a long time. He’s certainly well worth reading. Albert Sampson is a great character. The PI novel has gone out of style rather, and I miss them despite having a good collection of these by various authors, hence the re-reads!

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