The King of Swords
A Max Mingus Mystery by Nick Stone
Review: Nick Stone's second Max Mingus thriller, The King of Swords, is a prequel that takes place over a two year period from late 1980 through late 1982 while Mingus was still a detective in the elite Miami Task Force division of the police department.
Max and his partner Joe Liston are initially assigned to investigate the suspicious death of a man found in a local primate zoo. But they are shocked to discover the man's family has also been brutally murdered, and the suspect in the killings was the dead man himself. A torn up tarot card in the man's stomach suggests the deaths may be related to the increasingly powerful Haitian drug traffickers, but Max and Joe are pressured to pin the murders on someone else. Deciding that the best approach to solving the crime is to work independent of their superiors, the two detectives embark on a dangerous trail following the elusive Solomon Boukman, a man so powerful and feared that few dare to cross him.
What constitutes ethical (or even legal) behavior in the Miami Police Department as depicted in The King of Swords is at the core of the story. Though Max and Joe are relatively free of corruption, at least in comparison to some of their co-workers, neither can claim the high moral ground here. And that's one of the strengths of the book: how these two, basically good cops, negotiate the treacherous politics of their department, knowing that some of what they are doing is as wrong as the actions of the criminals they are chasing, yet trying to achieve the greater good. It's not that the end always justifies the means, but that the means aren't always as clearly defined as one might want. The plot effectively weaves the mysterious world of voodoo into their investigation and the character of Solomon Boukman (if he even exists) is particularly well established. Though there is a considerable amount of violence (both on the part of the police and the criminal sector), much of it takes place off stage, leaving many of the gruesome details to the reader's imagination.
A superbly crafted thriller to be sure, and a well-written one at that, the last chapters of The King of Swords are nonetheless somewhat disquieting as the book really doesn't have clean ending. Without revealing too much here, the ambiguous conclusion may leave some readers wondering what happens next. Since this is a prequel, it's known Max leaves the police department to become a private investigator. Still, the unknown is unsettling. But maybe that's what the author intended.
Acknowledgment: Susan Schwartzman Public Relations provided a copy of The King of Swords for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The King of Swords: Miami, Florida
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The King of Swords by Nick Stone — A Max Mingus Mystery
Publication Date: December 2008
List Price: $25.99
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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