VOICES OF THE DEAD is Peter Leonard’s most ambitious book to date. Following QUIVER and TRUST ME, it spans years and crosses continents on a quest to right wrongs and achieve justice for offenses past and present.
"These characters are almost too good to leave to one novel, and indeed, rumors of a sequel dip and swirl. It is worth reading VOICES OF THE DEAD, stand-alone or otherwise, particularly for fans of crime fiction who enjoy revenge served up well done and chilly."
The book is set in 1971 Detroit, which is just beginning to crumble around the edges. Harry Levin is a successful scrap metal dealer whose biggest concern is an IRS audit that may result in a levy that at best will be painful and at worst be unaffordable. But that concern is relegated to the backburner when Harry’s daughter Sara, working her way through college in Washington, D.C., is killed by a drunk driver named Ernst Hess, a German diplomat who is visiting the Washington, D.C. embassy. Actually, he is doing more than that. As we learn early on, Hess is a murderer who has been practicing his craft for decades, beginning as an officer of the German Schutzstaffel corps and later on his own.
As is also demonstrated in the first pages of this fine novel, Levin is not one to suffer fools or injustice patiently. He is a survivor and escapee from Dachau where he watched both of his parents get executed. He travels from Detroit to Washington, D.C. to confront Hess, whose halfhearted apology betrays his callous underlying attitude for his actions. Worse, Hess cannot be prosecuted for what he did, since he is protected by diplomatic immunity.
What follows is a deadly game of chess between Hess and Levin. Levin pursues his daughter’s killer from Washington, D.C. to Germany, to his former hometown, back to Detroit, and finally to Palm Beach, Florida, where the men have their ultimate confrontation. Along the way, Levin acquires an unlikely but somehow convincing ally in the form of Cordell Sims. His edgy presence alongside the dogged and determined Levin helps to create a symbiotic relationship that is like a force of nature. Hess’ motivation --- and his weakness --- is a secret known to only a few that he will go to any length to protect.
VOICES OF THE DEAD combines the best elements of the mystery and thriller genres to create a story rich in characterization. Some pacing problems at the beginning notwithstanding, there is a combination of decency and determination in Levin that is leavened by an occasional manifestation of grim humor that perhaps more than anything is responsible for the man’s ability to survive in the face of repeated horrors and injustices. The evolution of his relationship with the streetwise Sims, with whom he has little in common on the surface, is worth the price of admission all by itself.
These characters are almost too good to leave to one novel, and indeed, rumors of a sequel dip and swirl. It is worth reading VOICES OF THE DEAD, stand-alone or otherwise, particularly for fans of crime fiction who enjoy revenge served up well done and chilly.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 27, 2012