Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder

Don’t you hate it when a friend you don’t really like asks you for a favor you don’t really want to do?  So does former alcoholic, former NASCAR driver and current auto mechanic Conway Sax.  But when Tander Phigg asks him to help recover a much loved vintage Mercedes from an unscrupulous auto shop, Conway knows he can’t refuse.  Phigg is a founding member of the Barnburners, a group of recovering alcoholics who are the backbone of the Alcoholics Anonymous group who helped Conway sober up and Conway knows he owes them—-all of them, even the unlikeable and generally irritating Tander.

And anyway, how hard can it be to get the car back?  Conway’s in the business and he knows the score.   Just a matter of flexing a few muscles, giving a few hard stares and problem solved, right?

Wrong.  It turns out his Barnburner buddy didn’t tell him everything and the situation is more complicated than a simple case of a mechanic trying to pull a fast one on a customer.  Much more complicated.  And by the time Conway realizes this, Phigg is dead, Conway is the prime suspect and oh yeah, Conway’s crazy father resurfaces.

This is Ulfelder’s first novel and it’s a winner.  Conway Sax is a likeable main character with just the right mixture of strengths and flaws for a tough guy.  The working class Massachusetts setting is beautifully rendered.  And the plot is first rate, with plenty of action.  Fans of Robert Parker, Steve Hamilton, Paul Doiron and Lawrence Block’s Scudder novels will relish its gritty tone and sardonic hero.  I’ll definitely read the next one.

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