“When you’ve already lost everything, you have nothing left to lose.” It may be a common trope – the broken man, wracked with guilt because he brought about the murder of his wife and family – but Al Lamanda makes the most of it in Sunset. Sunset is Lamanda’s fifth book and his first Edgar finalist, for Best Novel.
Police Detective John Bekker’s been in the bottle since the brutal rape and murder of his wife twelve years previously, which was witnessed by his five-year-old daughter. The daughter, Regan, hasn’t spoken since and lives in an institution. He’s living the semi-functional heavy drinking life in a trailer on the beach and his closest friend is Oz, who is similarly inclined. And then one day, Bekker is kidnapped and held captive for days. In fact, just enough days to get him clean and sober. Which is just how Eddie Crist wants him.
Eddie’s dying. He’s also the mob boss that John’s been blaming all these years for the death of his wife and ruination of his daughter. But Eddie denies it and gives Bekker an assignment: find out who really did it. Because Crist is worried that it was his son, and he’d really like to die knowing for sure.
Sure, it’s over the top. But boy, does Lamanda nail it. The characters are real. The situations they get in are not just words on the page, but suck you in and make you feel it. And when the plot twists are exactly what you expect, it’s still okay because he does it so well. Example: John Bekker is attracted to his sister-in-law Janet and feels terrifically guilty when they get involved, but it turns out that Janet feels even guiltier because she’s been secretly in love with him all along. I mean, really! But I ate it up. With a spoon.
The only annoying downside: I guessed way in advance who really did it. Because the cop who is betrayed by those closest to him is also a trope.
So how does Sunset stack up against Potboiler (currently #2) and The Lost Ones (at #1)? For voice, I’m going to say it’s a 3-way tie. They could not be more different, and yet they are all excellent. For plot, I’m giving it to The Lost Ones, but for most-likely-to-be-made-int0-a-movie, it’s Sunset all the way. For charm and innovation, it’s Potboiler. But when it comes down to sheer enjoyment, I’m moving Sunset to the top of the rankings. So here we are.
MWA Edgar for Best Novel rankings: