Jonathan Nasaw has long been one of my favourite crime writers. FEAR ITSELF and WHEN SHE WAS BAD are perfect examples of his ability to craft a well defined crime tale that goes the extra mile. THE BOYS FROM SANTA CRUZ is no different in terms of engaging the reader and satisfying that criminal appetite for genre junkies.
Like a lot of crime fiction, Nasaw’s E.L Pender is a lone wolf-type working liaison for the FBI who steps outside the boundaries of ‘safe law enforcement’ in order to catch the bad guys. In taking a step back from the present day tone of the series, Nasaw turns our attention to Pender investigating an earlier case in his career involving Luke Sweet, a damaged young man presumed to be a ruthless killer and victim of his upbringing (he was on the phone to his father just prior to his death and saw his father’s lover commit suicide, the drug peddling and snuff films his parental figures were involved in doesn’t add well to the mix). However, Luke, is really misunderstood and ends up being someone the reader can sympathize with – he’s notorious throughout the novel for being in the wrong place at the wrong time; a victim of circumstance and deadly coincidence.
What I love about this book is the shift in perspective and changing point of view. Primarily narrated by Sweet with alternating chapters focused on Pender, we see both sides of the story spread over the course of decades (Luke is admitted to a mental health institution which takes him out of action for some time) which really gives a feel of realism and depth (not all cases are clean cut, this is a perfect example o f the blow burn crime fiction).
Not without its humour, Nasaw balances out the macabre nature of his fictional killing spree with light hearted characters and a side bar featuring the personal side of Pender.
THE BOYS FROM SANTA CRUZ, whilst part of a series of crime novels featuring E.L Pender, can be read as a standalone (I haven't read the preceding novels for some time yet found this easily readable as a self contained story) or enjoyed as part of the series.
Another highly recommended novel by Jonathan Nasaw