Thicker Than Water: A Tony Flaner Mystery by Johnny Worthen
Tony Flaner, sarcastic, slacking, sleuth from, THE FINGER TRAP, has given up being a good detective. Now he babysits a pampered dog for a high-strung family and of course that dog is kidnapped right under his nose. He tries to care, really he does, but he can’t. He couldn’t even if he weren’t otherwise distracted by the sudden death of his neglected aunt Vicky hundreds of miles away in scenic Moab, Utah.
To solve her murder, Tony wades into tourist town politics and nagging guilt to unravel hot plots and cold cases. He must learn the secret ways of Nordic Indians, elves and goblins, motorcycle maniacs, tabloid slanderers, yapping dogs, hated rivals, and old loves to find out what’s THICKER THAN WATER.
What DO I get myself into? This one is totally off the wall–in a good way! Tony Flaner is a sorta detective of indeterminate age. He must be somewhere close mid-to-late thirties, after all, he has a fifteen-year-old son and an ex with whom he is great friends. He should be, she gave him a generous settlement in the divorce. He is one of these guys who doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up and he still hasn’t (grown up).
In this first-person narrative, he is reduced to taking on the care of a spoiled dog after deciding being a PI isn’t what it was cracked up to be. He is tired of taking pictures of wayward spouses. Then he gets a call from a childhood friend in a town he’d pushed to the back of his memory. His aunt Vicky has been murdered and the local police are writing it off. He can’t have that, it was his aunt Vicky who took him in at the age of ten and loved and nurtured him as her own. Her own son, Rick, was about his age. He spends some time reflecting on Rick, called “Thick” by everyone except Tony (and he’ll explain why.) He’ll return to Moab, Utah to look into it using his amazing detective powers.
Admittedly, here is a main character that is rather unlikable. He’s irreverent, snarky, and fails badly at being a focused adult. Then the next page he reflects on how much he owes his aunt and exudes guilt over his lack of attention and communication. He could have, would have, should have exhibited a great deal more respect, honor, and gratitude. He reconnects with the girl who had his attention in Moab and begins his investigation.
While the story begins just a tad slow, I think it’s intentional to fix this protagonist’s mindset to you. He’s flippant. But he’s serious about his aunt. Moab, not so much, and there are plenty of jabs at poor Moab as a small Utah town that leaves no doubt in your mind as to the character of the inhabitants or the tourists who swarm yearly to enjoy the local recreation. Mountain biking (bicycles), rock climbing, and scenic orange-hued arches. (We rode into Moab one evening looking for a motel during our southwest national park ride one year and woke the next morning to find ashes covering our motorcycles. There was a huge forest fire in the hills and we were diverted from our original route.)
The author then takes you on a mad romp in some kind of bad trip with a constant barrage of charming analogies or bits of Tony wisdom:
“Utah’s gets its official state flower, the Orange Traffic Pylon, from I-15.”
“…Hike Three Days Through Cactus To See This Lame Hole in the Rock Arch…”
“It’s easier to teach a cat to come on command than it is to evict a tenant.”
“He knitted his forehead like a lemur taking a trig quiz.”
“…Moab’s primary export was its children.”
“When I started seeing noises…”
Maybe you have to be on something to completely get all the dialogue. It comes at you in snappy patterns, switching references briefly in mid-conversation to a wholly unrelated conversation. But you read it. Did you pay attention? Remember it? This is a frustrated stand-up comedian, reminding me just a little of Rodney Dangerfield. (He got no respect either.)
The author may not describe in detail what each support character looked like, but you definitely got to know them. I really enjoyed both his ex-wife and Allie. And Rick, poor slow Rick, is sympathetic albeit shocking at times.
Did I figure out the antagonist? Yes, although in true Agatha Christie style, he deftly laid it out following a conclusion you’d better keep up with–it came in stages throughout the last quarter of the book. The plot is unique, well-paced, and even at 582 pages didn’t take long to fly through. Fascinating train wreck and an author writing style that may grow on you too. My only problem was the occasional objectionable language and the edit misses. Still, the crazy thing is nothing if not entertaining and wraps in a satisfying conclusion, a grin on your face, and a chuckle in your heart.
I was given this digital download by the publisher through NetGalley and appreciated the new perspective on a PI mystery novel. Recommended for those who enjoy a distinctive MC and plot and scenic locale.
Genre: General Humorous Fiction, Private Investigator Mysteries
Publisher: Dandelion Ink LLC
- ASIN: B07W418BVW
Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five of Five Stars
The Author: JOHNNY WORTHEN grew up in the high desert snows and warm summer winds of the Wasatch Mountains. He graduated with a B.A. in English, minor in Classics and a Master’s in American Studies from the University of Utah. After a series of businesses and adventures, including years abroad and running his own bakery, Johnny found himself drawn to the only thing he ever wanted to do — write. And write he does. Well versed in modern literary criticism and cultural studies, Johnny writes upmarket multi-genre fiction – thriller, horror, young adult, comedy and mystery so far. “I write what I like to read,” he says. “That guarantees me at least one fan and a hectic job for my publicist.”
When not pounding on his keyboard, teaching the craft, attending conferences and conventions, Johnny Worthen can be found with his wife and boys in Sandy, Utah.
©2019 V Williams