Mia Geiger

California surfing cool backdrop in PI’s hunt for his former flame
By Mia Geiger
Special to The Denver Post

Surfing isn’t just for the beautiful young dudes and dudettes of sleepy beach cities looking for a thrill. For private investigator Noah Braddock, it’s his salvation.

And, boy, does he need it. Braddock, the protagonist in Jeff Shelby’s debut mystery, “Killer Swell,” is in way over his head dealing with dangerous drug lords – and the women in his life.

Just shy of 30, Braddock’s life has been going just fine – hanging out at his house on the beach, chugging down beers with his buddies, and surfing – when the mother of his high school sweetheart asks him to find her missing daughter, Kate Crier.

Still in love with the alluring Kate – who dumped him just before college – he accepts the case, even though it means associating with the woman’s mother, an aristocrat who views the working-class Braddock as something akin to gum on the bottom of her shoe.

With the help of his freeloading, just-deranged-enough-to- be-scary friend, Carter Hamm, Braddock takes on the case. No sooner than you can say cowabunga, the pair find themselves in trouble not only with ruthless drug dealers, but the DEA and a local police detective who wants the pair off the case. It doesn’t help that the local detective and Braddock share a romantic history that ended on a sour note.

Set in the sunny climate of San Diego, the author’s descriptions of seaside life show his appreciation for Southern California, where he spent about 20 years before moving to Colorado. Surfing serves as an engaging backdrop.

While the mystery contains surprising twists and turns, the real joy in this book is the characters. Like Harlan Coben did so well in his Myron Bolitar series, putting together two friends whose sarcastic banter is a hoot to follow, Shelby has done here.

Shelby’s protagonist is tough and hard-headed, but when it comes to women, he’s vulnerable and unsure of himself. His smart-aleck tongue and determination get him in trouble with the law and the bad guys, and he doesn’t always come out of the exchanges smiling.

As a character in the book says, “You screw up, you do dumbass things, but in the end, you get it right. You just have to do some stupid things before you get to the right things. It’s just your way.” Braddock views the statement, made by a girlfriend, as “the kindest thing she ever said about me.”

His pal Carter’s outrageousness complements Braddock and the pair’s ongoing joshing adds a playful dimension to the story.

“Killer Swell” is the only debut mystery its publisher, Dutton, is publishing this year. The book is expected to be the first in a series.

Swell.

Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.

 

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