I didn’t care much for The Dead Are Discreet, the first of several adventures of PI Jacob Asch that Arthur Lyons has written up. It was four years ago when I read it, and in these pages I called it “mired in … muck [with] a plot full o! inconsistencies …” and I gave it a “D.”
I might have been wrong. (Well, maybe .) At any rate, what Castles Burning strongly suggests is that I should not have been automatically skipping all the books he’s written since then.
Not that this one started out all that well. Asch decides to give an artist a helping hand in tracking down the latter’s son, the spoils of a marriage that went on the rocks some ten years before. The artist’s specialty: kinky sex, brought lovingly to life on canvas. Quoting the artist’s agent on page three, “We live in an erotic age, dear boy.”
But group groping and decor in leather are soon dismissed as a major topic of interest, and thankfully so. The true theme cuts just a little closer to home: alienated children, children with all that money can buy, but junked-out children nonetheless, and maybe therefore. Quoting again, this time from page 190, “They grew up bent because that was the way the light was coming in.”
The boy Asch is looking for is dead. The mother has remarried, and now she has a stepson instead. Thanks perhaps to Asch’s inquiries, the boy is kidnapped, and Asch’s client is blamed.
The characters are vivid and sensitively drawn. Pain and anguish always tend to do that to people, but this time it’s real and not simulated. Asch’s Jewishness only once comes to the fore, serving briefly to help escalate his growing sense of guilt. In all, the kidnapping serves to create some nicely tension-packed scenes before they fade off into a fairly tame closing.
But only in comparison. For some books the ending would be enough; it’d be what they’d build upon.
–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.
Rating: A minus.
The Jacob Asch series —
The Dead Are Discreet (1974)
All God’s Children (1975)
The Killing Floor (1976)
Dead Ringer (1977)
Castles Burning (1979)
Hard Trade (1981)
At the Hands of Another (1983)
Three With a Bullet (1984)
Fast Fade (1987)
Other People’s Money (1989)
False Pretenses (1994)
“Trouble in Paradise” (1985, The New Black Mask # 1)
“Missing in Miami” (1986, Mean Streets)
“Double Your Pleasure” (January 1989, AHMM)
“Dead Copy” (1988, An Eye For Justice)
“Twist Of Fate” (January 1990, AHMM)
“The Tongan Nude” (October 1997, AHMM)