Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Man Who Killed His Brother, Stephen R. Donaldson (spoilers)

The Man Who Killed His Brother
Stephen R. Donaldson

Possible spoilers are at the end of this review, and clearly marked as such. You can safely read until you're told not to.

The Man Who Killed His Brother is Stephen R. Donaldson's first mystery novel. Originally published under the pseudonym Reed Stephens, it was re-released a few years back under his real name. Some time back I reviewed The Man Who Fought Alone, the fourth (and so far, last) in the series. I'm finally getting back to these books and learning about Mick Axebrewder and Ginny Fistoulari's past.

Given the title, it's no spoiler to tell you that Brew - no one calls him Mick - killed his brother. It's also not really a spoiler to tell you his brother was a cop, or that Brew's life is pretty screwed up as a result. At the time we meet him, he's an alcoholic gone way off the deep end. Then his niece turns up missing, and he and his partner, Ginny, have to find her.

I'm not an alcoholic myself, and I've never talked in depth with anyone who is, so I cannot asses how accurate Donaldson's view of that condition is. What I can say is I buy his presentation of it. I also buy his presentation of the town in which the story happens - Puerta del Sol - and the criminal underworld operating there.

Sadly, there are a few things I didn't buy. One is related to the bad guy. I had him picked out immediately after we met him. I had no evidence yet, but Donaldson's descriptions and treatment of him left me in no real doubt that he was the heart of the problem, so to speak. I've previously said I don't read a lot of mysteries, and the genre really doesn't interest me all that much, so I'm not all that qualified to judge these things, but it seems the villain should have been a bit more difficult for me to pick out.

Another problem for me was a turning point in the book. Someone comes in with some interesting information just at the right time, but we never learn how he got it. It just seemed a bit too unlikely given the build up for that particular character. A few paragraphs of explanation would have helped with that concern, and it might have been possible for me to accept it fully with a bit more support.

The last issue - a logical flaw in the plot - is the possible spoiler, so I've put it at the bottom of this review. You can find it there if you'd like to read it.

The reviews on are pretty positive as of the date of my own review. The one negative one is way off base, as it accuses Donaldson of "tossing off" these mystery novels. I've spent some time on Donaldson's web site and I highly doubt that is the case.

Overall, Donaldson continues to create interesting characters and beats them to a pulp. In this case, though, I was surprised that Brew doesn't have quite as tough a time of it as I expected. All the same, ethics is still a major issue in this novel, as it is in Donaldson's other novel length works.

In short, an OK book with one major flaw that bugged me. Even so, if you're a Donaldson fan you might enjoy it.

Possible spoiler alert. Stop reading here if you care.

The most significant problem for me is the time frame the events in the novel take place in. To me it appears the horrors the victims go through just couldn't have happened in the brief time span between their kidnapping and recovery. I won't give details, but when I think logically about how fast the story takes place and so on, it doesn't hold water. I could be way, way off base, I suppose - I've spent zero time in the worlds of prostitution and drugs - but somehow I doubt I'm that far off.

The Donaldson mystery novels in question are, in order:
  1. The Man Killed His Brother
  2. The Man Who Risked His Partner
  3. The Man Who Tried To Get Away
  4. The Man Who Fought Alone