Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman

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Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An ex-corrupt cop immersed in a further crime struggles to find a way past his obligations. A novel style of thriller, and one that mostly works enough to earn a Bookbag recommendation.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1852429713

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Joe Denton is fresh from seven years in prison. Not bad for an ex-cop, ex-junkie, ex-gambling addict, when his crimes – which including mutilating the local DA, and trying to destroy evidence of many further examples of criminal activity he and his colleagues had been involved in – warranted a much longer sentence.

Awkwardly for Denton, when he does get out, his sheriff (and ex-boss) wants to pull in the favour that was the soft prison Denton was housed in. The DA is still kicking around, the local crime kingpin seems to be wanting to blab on his death-bed, and while the local community isn't too keen on Denton walking around with head held high, he is forced to stick around with just one last criminal errand to complete, with very tight deadline, before he can think of moving on.

With everyone on the cast list at least dodgy – there are no heroes or heroines here – the moral maze that is the book is a fine and meaty one. It is a little unfortunate however than the first section is noticeable in thrusting this at us – far too many are the instances when the first person narrative debates things, and crosses off all and sundry alternatives, fords all dilemmas, and resolves our main character to the one, awkward path he must walk.

After that however the thriller comes to the fore, with a dark pitch to everything and everyone, and a more intelligent narrative, one that might go too far in having our hero hold his plans back from us and other people, but one that allows some greater mystery in what he might be able to do to resolve the quandary and leave town alive.

That town is also a strong feature of the story, however the mixture of crime lords, corrupt cops on the make, strippers, coke and whatnot, combined with the small town, everyone-knows-everyone-if-not-what-they-get-up-to-at-night community spirit, reads a little false to the British eye. Just as someone seeming glad to get a $34 monthly pension.

However it does allow for some good characterisation, with the parents Denton is temporarily housed with good cameos, although I didn't thank them for the narcissism debate they dragged in. Denton himself is a very good narrator, with an interesting circumstance, and on the whole a very well maintained story – one that might not have any true cliff-hanger moments, but is forcible enough to keep the book in hand for one reading session.

Funnily enough, though, I think the book might be better appreciated by fans of thrillers. I wavered between three and a half and four stars after my reading, but I can see fans of the genre, despite the copious pages of predictability they must be forced to wade through in their reading life, finding a strength to the style and narrative here that while not perfect is distinguished enough to make the book well worth considering.

Serpent's Tail have done well in finding this noirish modern thriller from the US, and should also be thanked for sending a copy to the Bookbag to be reviewed.

If this book appeals to you then we think that you might enjoy the work of June Hampson. For a true-crime story of a corrupt cop, try Running Scared: For 22 Years He Was a Fugitive - The Corrupt Cop Busted by God by Robert Leon Davis.

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Buy Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman at


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