BOOK REVIEW, ‘DOWN SOLO,’ EARL JAVORSKY
Here is the Amazon synopsis for DOWN SOLO, a novel by Earl Javorsky:
“Things haven't been going well for Charlie Miner. His work as a private investigator involves him with an endless roster of shady characters. His ex-wife is borderline crazy. And he hasn't been getting to spend anywhere near enough time with his teenage daughter Mindy, the one person in his life who truly matters to him. When he wakes up on a slab in the morgue with a hole in his head, though, things get even worse. Just before the shooting, Charlie was investigating a case involving fraud, gold, religious zealots, and a gorgeous woman who seemed to be at the center of everything. Even with a fatal bullet wound, Charlie can connect the dots from the case to his attack. And when his daughter is abducted by someone involved, the stakes get exponentially higher. Charlie needs to find Mindy before the criminals do the same thing to her that they did to him. After that, maybe he'll try to figure out how he's walking around dead. Irreverent, circuitous, and surprisingly touching, Down Solo introduces a crisp new voice to suspense fiction.”
To be honest, this isn’t generally the type of novel I like to read. Dead PIs with holes in their head don’t usually tickle my fancy. However, I gave this one a try and I wasn’t disappointed. If you liked Tom Pitts’s “Hustle” (www.tompittsauthor.com) or Joe Clifford’s “Lamentation,” (www.joeclifford.com), or Willy Vlautin’s “The Motel Life” or “North Line” (http://willyvlautin.com/), then you might want to give DOWN SOLO a try.
Then again, it’s hard to argue with the first two sentences, which open the novel:
“They say once a junkie, always a junkie, but that is ridiculous. I haven’t been dead more than a few hours and I already need a fix.” (Page 9, DOWN SOLO [first page])
These opening lines do their job: They give us a strong taste of the narrator’s voice; they set up the plot, to an extent, and the circumstances; they show you a snippet of what the main character’s journey is going to be, in a clipped manner; and, perhaps most importantly, the lines hook you in and grab your collar. PAY ATTENTION TO ME, is what those lines yell. From the very start, we know we’re with an author who has control over his craft, who can deliberately, concisely, confidently pull us in, like a fish on a line, and hold us there, right where he wants us.
The fact that the novel gets nods from bestselling authors such as T. Jefferson Parker and the renowned James Frey (A Million Little Pieces; Bright Shiny Morning) is a testament to the strength of the prose. From the editorial point of view I felt Javorsky’s best writing stems from his physical descriptions of people and places, his crisp, tight use of language and syntax, his brief, authentic dialogue, his metaphor and imagery, his use of short, fast back story which emotionally connects us to his hero, and the building of tension masterfully using action scenes which force us to keep reading and wonder what will happen next, making our heart pump harder while he does it.
His craftsmanship never left me feeling cold or like he didn’t know what he was doing. I felt the whole time like I was in the hands of a very capable author.
“Hunter looks like a movie star in the traditional mold: tanned, aristocratic, slightly graying at the temples, and poised. Only his eyes give him away as a street fighter, a predator’s patient calculating of odds and possibilities hidden in the unblinking gaze.” (Page 170, DOWN SOLO.)
The above quoted passage is just a little taste of the author’s often gem-tight, clear prose style which floats effortlessly just above the page and which demonstrates beautifully his narrator’s voice. That fierce confidence and knowledge—we feel he may have actually lived through some of these experiences, though not surviving a bullet to the dome—shines through much of this novel, bringing to bear the feeling that we are being held by an accomplished, practiced writer.
The journey the hero, Charlie Miner, goes on, to find and retrieve his 15-year-old daughter while simultaneously attempting to solve all the sordid, confusing riddles in his world, is a fun, raw ride, which I always wanted to get back into, after taking a break from the book.
Javorsky also manages to write a squalid tale about mostly low-down, noir-ish characters while also somehow bonding us emotionally to those grimy characters:
“I didn’t start out a junkie. Most of them start out as kids partying on booze and weed. Then they get bored and experiment with more exotic stuff. Acid, Ecstasy, DMT, you name it. Then coke and speed, which means downers for the end of the ride: Xanax and Oxy. When the balancing act gets too tricky, the first snort of heroin solves the whole riddle of how to get right. It’s no longer a question of how to get high, it’s a matter of simply trying to feel human again. Heroin can do that. Until you run out.” (Page 102, DOWN SOLO.)
It’s now no longer just some measly junkie low-down loser but a fully fleshed-out human being who made mistakes and landed in the Heroin Cage of Addiction. Especially with our current culture of prescription drug addiction (which often leads to heroin), this seems like an appropriate representation of a decent guy who’s fallen to the beast of opiates.
There are some fantastic, popping suspense scenes throughout this 200-page novel which made my heart beat quicker. The author clearly knows how to build up a scene, then slow it down or cut the chapter off with a cliff-hanger so we need to keep turning pages to find out more. And his use of minor [concrete] details creates a sensual, vivid landscape which we cannot resist, like catnip for a kitten.
“The hissing of the shower stops abruptly, leaving the room in silence except for the dripping of the nozzles and the sound of bare feet padding across the tiles.” (Page 56, DOWN SOLO.)
Or, describing Mexico (Baja): “…We pass a structure that looks like a mescaline-induced cubist totem pole. A one-legged vendor thrusts a churro at my window. I shake my head and he hobbles on to feed the cars behind me. Women dressed as nurses hold out cans for donations; old men offer plaster Tweety birds, sunglasses, cactuses in pots, monkey puppets on strings attached to the ends of sticks, and a plaster Mary with a halo of concentric shiny wire rings.” (Page 164, DOWN SOLO.)
Having been to Baja, California (Mexico) myself many times over the years, this vivid description placed me right back there.
And finally, I felt that he also did a fine job emotionally bonding me to the Main Character/Hero/Protagonist. In a novel like this—and I have read many, minus the dead hero—it is often too easy to create two-dimensional characters or to write scenes or back story or prose in general that lacks real emotion and empathy. Not the case with DOWN SOLO. Throughout the tale, he weaves emotionally bonding snippets into the real-time action scenes and also into the back story, so that we care and relate to this dead protagonist. No easy feat if you think about it.
“I try to picture how a life can crumble as completely as mine did, and I get a slideshow of the Miner family devolving to its current state. The early part, the glorious, exhausting stage of new parenthood, that holy state of surrender to what’s really important, only serves to remind me of what is now so irrevocably gone. There’s a trigger point, somewhere, a rifle shot that caused the avalanche that changed it all, but I can’t put a finger on it. But Mindy, with her sly little lopsided smile and her inexplicable faith in me after all my failures, is still a part of my life. Something to work toward. Something to hope for.” (Page 18, DOWN SOLO.)
Referring to the above quotation—which reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson, describing that metaphorical wave crashing against the hillsides, representing the final peak and dissolution of the wild, lurid 1960s—you might just as easily be reading Dave Eggers, or perhaps even Paul Auster. I love the literary bent, distributed in quick, sneaky snippets like the above, sandwiched within the squalid chaos of action-packed, heart-racing boom-boom-boom scenes which slice-and-dice and carve serious, deep trails down the storyline, creating a rich, layered, complex plot that grips you by the collar and never lets go. If good writing is about fulfilling a promise from the author to the reader, Javorsky has fulfilled his obligation. Buy this book. You won’t regret it.
writer, former literary agent’s assistant, book editor
Earl Javorsky was born in Berlin and emigrated to the US when he was two. He grew up in Los Angeles and attended the local community college and UCLA. He then went to Emerson College, a teacher training school in England. Besides having written two published novels, he has created strategically optimized content (blogs, feature articles, and web pages) for treatment centers throughout the country, taught music at Pepperdine University (Malibu campus), worked in technical sales and marketing, and been employed as a writer for several Hollywood entertainment periodicals. Additionally, he has worked as an editor and/or proofreader for several publishers, including The Story Plant, Belle Books, and The Learning Company, as well as (on the technical side) The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. You can read more about him at www.earljavorsky.com