Hiding out in Puerto Lagarto as the novel opens, our hero Joe Dunne begins a detailed confession to a traveling American priest. He has been hiding out for two years with no one to talk to and clearly is a bit lonely. Besides that, he has been watching the American in a clerical collar chasing butterflies with a net and thought it was funny. As the pages turn, he tells his story and explains how e got a job that was to set him up money wise pretty good as well as cause his exile far from home.

After handing a case that pushed the bounds, his name is passed on to an angry father by a client who really should have kept his big fat mouth firmly shut. The father is aware of some of the details of the other case and thinks that Joe Dunne could be willing to do what he wants done. It seems his boy was one of three men who went down to Mississippi to help with voter registration. His son, who was a good student at Harvard, along with two friends are now missing and presumed dead. Dad knows who did it thanks to another contact and Dad wants justice.

“I know they’re dead. I don’t know what your political views are and I don’t care. But I think you know what justice is. If it doesn’t exist, then you make it. I want my boy’s body. And I want justice.You mean revenge. I don’t make any distinction. Shall we talk business?” (page 34)

Dad also knows that the legal system in 1970 Mississippi isn’t going to do anything to the five that local gossip says were involved. He wants proof of their guilt and he wants justice.

Justice he is willing to pay for and justice of a kind that means Dunne will have to close his private investigation business, send his receptionist, Kirby, on her way and disappear. The father is willing to pay for finding the bodies of the victims, another higher amount for proof of the guilty and a still higher amount for their execution—no matter how many are ultimately guilty of the crime. Justice that he is wiling to pay for and will pay well for once he has the proof he needs of their guilt. Justice that can be bought at these prices and justice that Dunne is willing to deliver.

Like most releases from Hard Case Crime, this recent re-release is a dark atmospheric one. One knows from the opening page something went horribly wrong and the only real question as the pain filled narrative begins from Joe Dunne is exactly what went wrong. Everything and everyone is flawed in some fatal way and that certainly is the case here. Like many from this publisher, there is a certain inevitability in the read that means all the hard work, the meticulous planning of every last detail, in the end truly did not matter.

Joe Dunne is a complex character and as this slow moving novel tells the tale, a character that the reader begins to identify with more and more. A character, that while one knows is probably doomed, one that the reader pulls for all the way to the bitter end.

The novel is a read full of rich detailed characters, a time that wasn’t the best in American history, and plenty of evil.  It is a read that also makes one wonder just how much, if any, things have really changed.

The Murderer Vine

Shepard Rifkin

Hard Case Crime


May 2008

ISBN# 0-8439-5961-4


254 Pages

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Read my story “Burning Questions” at Mysterical-e

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