Written by JE Fishman — Author JE Fishman debuted his science thriller Primacy last year to critical raves, and this year he gives us the first of his Phuoc Goldberg ‘fiascos’, Cadaver Blues. It’s not only the first of a promising new series, it’s his first mystery and introduces a fascinating cast of unique characters.
Phu Goldberg was 14 years old when he found his adoptive father hanging from a tree, and it was his first real experience with death. Born in the middle of a war zone, his adoptive parents, Myron and Phyllis Goldberg, gave him the name Phuoc so that he wouldn’t lose his identity. So, with death staining his soul, and an ‘obscenely un-American first name’, Phu grew up with three rules to live by: never owe, never sweat, never apologize.
His debt negotiation outfit is located above Creamy Dreamy, a chocolate shop run by his landlords Natasha and Brad. Phu always pays his rent, but lately things have been a bit slow and he’s hoping something big will come along to pad out his bank account. Well, something does indeed come along, a few somethings actually, but the first one to walk through the door is Mindy Eider, and she’s brought a whole lot of trouble with her. But Phu doesn’t know that yet.
Phu is immediately taken with Mindy’s beauty but puts aside his attraction long enough to shove an information sheet in her hand and urge her to fill it out, in spite of her protestations. When she hands it back, it’s woefully devoid of the needed info and Mindy’s story begins. Her ‘Uncle’ Gunnar Karlson is on a yearly getaway to the Poconos, yet Mindy has been receiving foreclosure notices on his house. Has the old man forgotten to pay his mortgage? Mindy insists that this is very unlike him. Phu has little to go on, and Gunnar isn’t even her real uncle, but finds himself sucked into playing detective.
They go to Gunnar’s house and break in, but don’t find anything amiss – except for a fish tank filled with mushrooms and what looks like the remains of a mouse, and some strange marks on the floor. Mindy is mystified but Phu thinks the old man doesn’t want to be found. She doesn’t accept this and insists on Phu’s continued help, but he’s sure she is holding back something. Unraveling this mystery takes Phu’s instincts to the limits and he’ll need the help of a few friends along the way. Keep an eye out for the reference to the title. It certainly wasn’t what I expected and was an amusing surprise.
Phu Goldberg is a fascinating concoction. Foreign born and adopted by Jewish-American socialist parents, he’s grown up constantly having to defend himself against real and perceived prejudices. Small in stature, but long on smarts, his instincts have taught him that confidence can make up for what he lacks in height, but the chip on his shoulder has consequences and his persistent cynicism is a foil for Mindy’s sunny, optimistic disposition.
Cadaver Blues is told in Phu’s voice, and I really enjoyed his wry humour, sharp instincts and genuine desire to help others, despite his cynicism. His landlords are a hoot and the author sends some other intriguing characters our way in the form of a down on her luck woman who’s desperately trying to keep her home and possessions as she opens her heart to many of the neighborhood’s wayward children. Though interesting, I wasn’t quite as fond of Mindy. Her disingenuousness is grating. How a woman that looks like her could be completely unaware of how she affects men borders on unbelievable, and this is something that mystifies, and annoys, Phu as well. However, as the story unfolds, we get to see how big Mindy’s heart really is.
Cadaver Blues is a quirky, well written mystery and the fun here is in the journey and getting to know the characters. As Phu and Mindy follow the clues, Phu slowly and surely begins to realise that people really can shine bright, maybe even as bright as his yellow Mini Cooper. If you like mysteries that don’t focus quite as much on who dunnit, but showcase the growth of unique characters, this one’s for you.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars