Ed Lynskey's debut mystery, The Dirt-Brown Derby, introduces private investigator Frank Johnson, and is sure to please fans of hard-boiled detective fiction. After being offered an obscene amount of money to take a case ("Let's set your retainer at, oh, say $50,000." "What if I say no?" "$200,000 is my final offer"), PI Frank Johnson is persuaded to look into the death of Emily Taliaferro, the daughter of Mary Taliaferro, a Virginia horse breeder who is convinced she was murdered. The cause of death: her head was crushed by a thoroughbred.
Initially, Frank tends to agree with the police who rule the young woman's death a tragic accident, but when the horse's trainer is found dead the next day, he's convinced that he should dig deeper.
Lynskey doesn't waste any time getting to the action in The Dirt-Brown Derby. Within the first few paragraphs, Frank is confronted by local toughs who are willing and able to show him he's not welcome in their town. After putting them in their place, he then tests the limits of police tolerance.
All this suggests that, from the author's perspective, actions speak louder than words, at least in terms of character development. It's quite clear from the first chapter what kind of PI Frank is: tough, uncompromising, willing to bend a few rules in the interest of the truth (and at times just to see if he can get away with it), and more than a little cynical.
What's also clear from the first chapter is that there isn't much of a mystery here. Most readers will know who killed Emily right away, and can probably make an educated guess at the motive as well. The reason to continue reading is to enjoy Lynskey's portrayal of Frank Johnson, his descriptive, noir-ish style of writing, and the colorful cast of characters he's populated the book with. What would have elevated this book into the top tier is some unexpected plot twist instead of the telegraphed conclusion provided.