I enjoyed meeting Chico Santana in this book, and I had a blast chasing after him up and down the bleak streets of New York where memories hung on every corner for him. Thankfully, those memories are interesting tales in and of themselves, and there’s a whole lot more to uncover as the series (there’s already a second book out only a couple months ago) progresses.
The plot seems to have sprung from Chandler’s potboilers, then chugged straight into the Bronx to visit squalor, violence, and twisted family ties that echo the cases Philip Marlowe and his kin had since waded through. Chico is a different kind of hero, though. When he gets into trouble, he doesn’t immediately reach for a gun. In fact, he doesn’t want to kill anyone at all.
And he’s hard to impress. Even meeting rising Hollywood action star Kirk Atlas leaves Chico unfazed. Of course, Chico isn’t in a good place. He’s just been kicked out of his home by his wife Ramona.
I liked the way Chico’s family and friends kept parading through the book. If it hadn’t been for his friend Albert, the wannabe filmmaker who was tied up with Kirk Atlas, Chico wouldn’t have been brought into the search for Tiffany (Atlas’s missing cousin).
Ramona plays a big role in who Chico is and how he defines himself, but she barely hit the pages at all in a meaningful way. She remained a cipher to me on many levels, and I didn’t understand why he was so enamored of her. But Chico certainly isn’t the only private eye carrying a torch for a broken love these days, and Philip Marlowe had marital problems of his own in Playback.
The novel’s plot got so twisted in the later pages that I had to stop and think from time to time about who was who and what Chico was really looking for. I had to work to keep it straight, but Roman has everything there. I expect he’ll smooth out as he keeps working. I’ve already ordered his second book and look forward to reading it.
The main thing that readers will carry away from this novel is the haunting tone that Roman lays down through Chico Santana. He’s part smart-aleck, part-innocent, and part-noble warrior. The book also gives some insight to the Latino culture and the edgier sides of New York, which were welcome tours.