Straight No Chaser is the re-release of a 1989 Jack Batten mystery featuring Crang, a vodka quaffing Toronto-based criminal attorney whose enterprises involve an accidental foray into dangerous criminal activity and very little lawyering.
The book begins when Dave Goddard, a much admired friend and supercool delightfully dated jazz musician Crang has elevated to hero status, is spooked by someone following him. Crang is recruited to tail the tail, and get to the bottom of things. Crang receives a bop on the head for his trouble, which opens the floodgates for stolen goods, a complicated drug smuggling ring, greed, double cross, and murder, with surprising connections to the Toronto film festival,.
Do not expect a blockbuster. Characters, with few exceptions are largely stereotypical and one dimensional. Drug dealers are drug dealers, although one homicide is uniquely orchestrated. Crooks are crooks. The exception is that lawyers are apparently not lawyers. Crang is the clever mastermind who gets in way too deep, pushes the envelope, and brings criminals to justice.
There’s a real contrast in vocabulary, from lofty intellectuality to almost archaic and awkward e.g. schemozzle, boffo, and in a pickle, which are not terribly reminiscent of the 1980s. Neither approach is particularly enjoyable to this reader.
It takes time to get into Straight No Chaser, however, if you have patience and persistence, after several chapters, it becomes more complex and interesting. Batten does a bang up job in the end, with heavy doses of fast-paced action and excitement, so he can capture an audience.
Straight No Chaser is an okay enough read. If you like a slow build and a big finale, with a few twists for good measure, give it a try.