Monday, December 6, 2010

Diamonds for the Dead by Alan Orloff

Early in November, I met Alan Orloff at the Virginia Writers Club annual meeting at Mount Vernon. Alan had a table in the local writers' area. We fell into a conversation about how he came to write this book, what he was writing next, and what I was writing. I try and help Virginia writers, so I bought Diamonds for the Dead. I read it this weekend.

I won't tell you about the plot or who-dun-it, because you need to read the book for yourselves. What I will do is focus on what makes the book work for me: plot, strong and clearly delineated characters, and great zingers when they are least expected.

At first I was afraid this would turn into another book about Russian Jews, stolen Holocaust diamonds, and perhaps the Russian Mafia. Instead, I was very pleased to read a tightly written plot about Josh Handleman, the son of "Honest Abe," from whom he has been estranged for years. When Abe dies, Josh has to deal with his guilt, loss, an odd old Russian Jew living in his father's basement, hints of murder, and lost diamonds.

No cliches of Russian Mafia or Holocaust diamonds. Just a tight story that could happen to any of us.

There are plenty of Russian Jews, both good and evil, both immigrants and born in the USA. One has to be evil, but Orloff keeps us guessing until close to the end. (I figured out who was the baddie, but not until about 40 pages from the end.) Well drawn characters help the plot work. Josh Handleman isn't whiney but is lost and in over his head. Lev Yurishenko is big enough and menacing enough to keep the reader off guard. Kassian, the man living in the basement, is just odd enough to be the villian. Add a couple of women and some great one-liners ("When you're hot, you're hot. And when you're not, you're Josh Handleman, stud to dud in sixty seconds.") and the book is a satisfying read.

Orloff's second book comes out in April 2011. It's called Killer Routine and promises to be a good read. Moreover, it's the start of a new series, the Last Laff Mystery series. Interesting name. I hope I get an advanced copy to review.

All images are courtesy of Alan's web site.

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