Thursday, December 27, 2012


Dev Conrad—the cynical yet hopeful political consultant from Ed Gorman’s 2008 novel Sleeping Dogs—returns in Stranglehold.  Conrad is a Chicago-based political consultant who has one serious flaw; he has a conscience.  He plays to win, but he has an antiquated sense of fairness and honor.  A trait that isn’t in high demand in American politics.

Susan Cooper is an ideal candidate—she is attractive, intelligent, well spoken and personable—but as the election nears she becomes erratic and secretive.  Dev Conrad is called in as a trouble-shooter to find out the problem and put a leash on the candidate.  It’s not a quick fix however—Cooper is unmoved in her strange behavior and the clues Conrad finds lead him both to and away from his target.

Stranglehold is everything a mystery should be: dark, witty, plot driven, but populated by characters that matter, and it is never generic.  Mr Gorman takes a standard plot—murder, blackmail, lust—and breaths new life into it with twists that surprise the reader and invigorate the story.  It is a murder mystery, but its cock-eyed slant tracks the story into unexpected territory.

The opening line reads: “All roads lead to motels.” A standard theme in detective fiction—the seedy motel where unspeakable madness occurs—but Ed Gorman uses it as a kind of foil.  Not a trick by any standard, but he turns the trope against itself as well as the reader.

Ed Gorman is the most reliable writer of suspense currently working.  His plots—see above—are always clever and tight, his prose is smooth and hard at once, his narrative is steady and his dialogue is crystal.  But his real power is with the people that populate his stories.  His work has a dark cynicism about it, but that cynicism is rarely projected onto his characters.  There is hope in the behavior of his characters—they tend to be kind, solid, melancholy and very real; i. e. flawed.  The hero is as flawed as the antagonist, but it is the flaws, and how the character manages them, that generate compassion and interest from the reader.

Stranglehold is different from the first Dev Conrad novel: Sleeping Dogs.  It is darker.  There is less humor, although there is plenty if you enjoy your humor dry and subtle.  The differences between the two novels is interesting only on an intellectual level because both are entertaining.  The bottom line is, Stranglehold is the real deal.  It is another example of just how good Ed Gorman is at his craft.  It is also a reminder of the injustice that his name isn’t on the same lists as Stephen King, Dean Koontz and the rest of the high quality bestsellers.


Cullen Gallagher said...

Nice to see you reviewing again! I also really liked STRANGLEHOLD.

Dev seems a lot more desolate as this series goes on, and it continues in the latest entry, BLINDSIDE. I think Gorman really captures the spirit of the times, at once outraged but also sick and tired of all the bullshit going on, knowing that it is still going to continue despite our best efforts.

Dev also seems one of Gorman's loneliest characters. His job seems a substitute for a family or personal life, and he doesn't even have much intimacy or closeness there.

"Ed Gorman is the most reliable writer of suspense currently working." I agree completely -- one of the best damn writers currently writing period, in my opinion.

Ben Boulden said...


I read BLINDSIDE earlier this year and I agree that each of the novels is darker than the last. I also think, of the three, that BLINDSIDE is the best; however, I really like all of them.