A Nick Hoffman Mystery by Lev Raphael
Review: Hot Rocks is the 7th mystery by Lev Raphael in the Nick Hoffman series set in a major metropolis in Michigan.
The opening chapter of Hot Rocks sets the stage for a interesting locked room-type murder mystery: Nick Hoffman, relaxing in the steam room at a popular health club, tries to engage the room's only other occupant, Vlado, a trainer at the club, in conversation. When he realizes that Vlado reminds him of the young poet depicted in the painting The Death of Chatterton, he begins to suspect that Vlado may be dead. And indeed he is, murdered by a blunt object struck to the head. With all the people coming and going at the club, how could someone have killed Vlado without being seen?
Unfortunately, the who, how, and why aspects of the murder are largely set aside until the very end. Both how the crime was committed and how Nick puts the pieces together to solve it are very clever indeed. But what transpires between the beginning and the end borders on the tedious.
Part of the problem is in the description of Nick's friend Juno Dromgoole. She's intended to be a larger-than-life character with exaggerated features. But she dominates whatever scene she is in to the point of distraction. And her presence is pervasive, overpowering that of Nick Hoffman. Less, much less, of Juno would truly equate to a more, far more, readable and enjoyable book.
A more subtle problem lays in Raphael's constant use of literary and artistic references. Comparing Vlado to Chatterton in the first chapter is inspired; even if the reader had never seen the painting, they could imagine what might be depicted and construct a mental picture of the dead trainer in the steam room. But scarcely a page goes by without some simile being presented. Some of these work well; consider this eloquent passage: "I couldn't figure out what was underneath her languor, but it felt insidious, maybe even corrupt. Though not as strange, she reminded me of Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep." But most references are either just contextually odd ("I don't see how you ended up studying Wharton. Your period is really the Picaresque, and Juno is right out of Fielding.") or nonsensical ("My new [chairman] had recently risen to the top through politicking as arcane as some of the references in The Da Vinci Code."). Some might find Raphael's writing in this manner witty, but it's mostly arduous and tiresome.
Finally, Raphael tends to use unusual names for his characters, so a Who's Who at the beginning is a very helpful addition for keeping track of them.
Hot Rocks is a near miss: a terrific mystery overwhelmed by verbiage.
Acknowledgment: Perseverance Press provided a copy of Hot Rocks for this review.
Review Copyright © 2007 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Hot Rocks: Michigan
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Hot Rocks by Lev Raphael — A Nick Hoffman Mystery
Publisher: Perseverance Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: April 2007
List Price: $14.95