Land of the Brave by Tom Fowler is a mystery novella. It is a formulaic mystery with a by-the-book cop working together with a thinks-outside-the-box private investigator. Somewhere within the first third of the novella, the reader is secure in the knowledge that the two are brothers. Rich, the cop, had a friend, Jim Shelton, who died while working for a charity that focused on help for returning combat veterans. The verdict was suicide but, due to the close wartime relationship between Rich and Jim, Rich didn’t accept the finding and recruited his brother for a road trip to the scene of death where they would conduct their own investigation. The locals would not welcome the two and would employ the small town everyone-knows-everyone social structure to hinder the brothers’ investigation. Possible corrupt politicians and possible police involvement in a wrongful death are a given. Formulaic.
Fowler attempts to disrupt the formula of the novel with several devices. First is the relationship between the brothers. There is an obvious tension between a by-the-rules person and a freethinker. The conflict is embedded in a base of humorous dialogue between the brothers as they constantly comment on one another’s physical appearance, fashion sense, and investigative skills. Fowler forces the humor and it appears at times unnatural. Second, Fowler spends a great deal of effort on paying attention to the smallest details. Contrasting colors of carpets between rooms and the appearance of overly large overalls are discussed at length. The third is Fowler’s insertion of peripheral events that seem to have nothing to do with the story. An example is the private investigator’s experience with incarceration in China. This makes sense when readers remember this is a novella leading to a longer novel. The fourth device is the revelation of the private investigator’s name. We learn the name only in the last few pages of the novella but the identity was always a question I had in the back of my mind while reading.
Despite all these attempts to avoid the mystery story formula, I could only muster enough interest to give the short read three plus Amazon stars. I got the novella from the author through BookFunnel for free, a fact that did not influence my review.
Picture Credit to geralt at Pixabay