by Steve Ulfelder
Release Date: May 10, 2011
2011 Minotaur Books
E-book Edition; 332 Pages
Hardcover Edition; 304 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Murder
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
4 / 5 Stars
The job seems simple. Conway Sax, a no-nonsense auto mechanic with a knack for solving difficult problems, has never liked obnoxious blowhard Tander Phigg. But a promise is a promise. Tander’s a Barnburner, a member of the unique Alcoholics Anonymous group that rescued Conway, and when a Barnburner has a problem, Conway takes care of it. Besides, all Tander wants is to get back his baby, a vintage Mercedes that’s been in a shady auto shop far too long.
But Conway soon discovers there's much more to the problem than Tander first let on – especially when Tander turns up dead. Conway was the last person seen with the victim, and on top of that, he has a record, making him the cops’ top suspect. He must catch the killer to clear himself, but beyond that, he’s a man who honors his promises, even when the guy he made them to is dead.
Purgatory Chasm is an original novel that grabs you right from the beginning and doesn't let go until the very end. With plenty of twists and turns, genuine characters you learn to care about, and a gripping story, it is hard to believe this is Mr. Ulfelder's debut novel. The witty dialogue and banter also made Purgatory Chasm interesting and as always, a sarcastic main character who is gritty, tough, and loveable is always a huge draw for me.
Conway Sax had a short, but memorable, circuit on the NASCAR scene, a scene that ended because of a stint with alcoholism, something that runs in his family. Growing up with an alcoholic father made him tough, gritty, and slow to commit in his relationships. While a very giving and generous man, someone who would give you the shirt off his back, he has difficulty committing to the woman he loves, and often draws from her when things become serious. Intrigued by expensive car restorations, Sax has for years worked on Tander Phigg's Mercedes, a fellow Burnbuster/AA member. When Phigg's ask for help in getting his car back, Sax feels obligated to help, feeling ties that go very deep due to associations with the Barnbusters. This leads him into a situation where he is attacked and almost killed. Soon, Sax is in the midst of a mystery in which he had little intention of getting involved.
I really enjoyed the plot to this novel, except for the fact that it was way too easy to figure out who the murderer and guilty persons were. I think I would have preferred to have kept that information more in the dark, but I certainly did enjoy the chase and the other pieces of information that came up as the story unfolded. While some things were pretty predictable, there were many moments when I got caught off guard by something and thought, How did I miss that one? I love it when that happens!!
The characters and the human exploration of relationships definitely sold this story however. Purgatory Chasm is a place where Sax and his dad went to do some difficult training for race-car driving, and it was deep in a chasm with many rocks that posed many dangers to them during training. In some ways, this chasm represents the lives of the characters as it seems like there is always a gulf separating them from being truly happy in their lives. There is the difficulty with Sax and his dad, Charlene and her rocky road back to sobriety and her difficulty in getting Sax to commit, Trey and his dad Tander and their love-hate relationship, Patty with her hatred of her father, and it just goes on. They story often touched on the humanity of the characters and helping them get in touch with themselves and their families as they tracked the killer and the money. It certainly made me examine my own family history and how things can impact your life for many years to come, especially if you let hatred just fester in your soul.
Purgatory Chasm is a fascinating look at families and the effect that negativity has on your outlook and your behaviours in your life. It is also a suspenseful, provocative novel about a flawed, sarcastic main character who will endear himself to you and make you want to learn more about him and his life. It's fun and exciting to read and I look forward to hopefully reading more adventures about Conway Sax in the future.