by Keith Dixon
Copyright: © 2008
I was excited to get my copy of Altered Life and write my essay on a detective thriller from Keith Dixon. He was nice enough to send me a copy all the way across the pond and I dove into it the same day it arrived. The description hooked me: ‘Altered Life transplants the attitude and pace of the American private eye story into a contemporary English setting.’
This book features Sam Dyke, a hard edged private eye with a past. His niche tends more towards stakeouts and connecting the dots than the intricacies of corporate espionage.
However, the murder of Rory Brand, consultant and computer tycoon, sends him lurching off on a case he didn’t want trying to find one killer out of a dozen likely suspects.
Each chapter seems to start with a paragraph or two which give you a glimpse at the English locations where Altered Life is set. Here is an example from Chapter 46: “The next morning I drove down to north Birmingham, to one of the suburbs that were built as wealthy Victorian merchants began to distance themselves from the dark heart of their steel foundries and sought the green pastures of what was then open country. The wide roads and spacious architecture of mansion and church had since been overrun by the mini-community of Chinese takeaway, Laundromat and video store but if you half-shut your eyes you could still see the outlines of the Palladian refuges that the bearded philanthropists had created for themselves and the families.”
There are strong female characters sprinkled throughout Altered Life as well. Laura Marshall is the up and coming executive at Brand’s firm that hires Sam to solve Brand’s murder. Tara Brand is Rory’s current wife who shares a connection to Sam Dyke as well. Of course, there is a police detective with a bad attitude about Private Eyes who end up in the middle of his case.
The action comes fast and furious as Sam starts stepping on toes and asking uncomfortable questions. The important aspects of detective stories are here, the ubiquitous car chase that ends up with Sam in the ditch and Laura in the hospital… the excusable breaking an entering to dig up valuable clues, and the switcheroo at the end which you don’t quite see coming even though you should. The writing is sound, the story flows well, and the frequent dialogue between characters is expertly handled. Perhaps surprising for a book like this is the time spent fleshing out the characters and examining what makes them tick. Even Sam seems more like you and I trying to solve this case than a super-detective.
If you like private eye stories, you owe it to yourself to check out Keith Dixon’s Altered Life. I had a hard time putting it down and I bet you will too. With this book you’ll be in on the ground floor of what is sure to be a successful series of ‘Sam Dyke’ mysteries.