Eyes Closed Tight
Peter Leonard has that rare ability to totally draw the reader into his story within the space of a few sentences. He has demonstrated it before in his other books, but perhaps never so strongly as in EYES CLOSED TIGHT, his latest and best novel to date. Within a page or two, Leonard introduces Oak O’Clair, has you liking the guy --- even sympathizing with him and maybe envying him just a bit --- and sets up the incident that propels the story to its edge-of-your seat conclusion. Leonard makes it look easy to boot.
Let me elaborate just a bit, if the above by itself doesn’t immediately incline you toward obtaining EYES CLOSED TIGHT and reading this engrossing story in one sitting. Oak O’Clair is a retired Detroit homicide detective who has transplanted himself to Pompano Beach, Florida, where he has purchased a small mom-and-pop-type hotel. The “mom” to his “pop” is Oak’s girlfriend, Virginia, whose considerable assets include the ability to fix just about anything --- an important skill when one is running a hotel --- and look absolutely wonderful while doing it. Oak wonders what Virginia is doing with him (there is an age difference, and it’s not in Oak’s favor) but wisely doesn’t think about it too much.
"Leonard lets the reader know what is going on, or at least part of it anyway, revealing just enough to ratchet up the suspense meter past 11 and bounce back and forth in time, balancing plot, characterization and dialogue to concoct a heady, spicy stew of a story."
Detroit seems like a remote bad dream, which comes to life when Oak receives a rude awakening one morning. The body of a young woman is discovered on the beach in back of his hotel, murdered in a manner very similar to a homicide case that he investigated and seemingly solved years ago when he was on the job in Detroit. When a second incident occurs, Oak is convinced that he is being targeted by someone who knew him then. Worse, whoever is doing it may be targeting Virginia to get to him. He is at a loss as to who might be after him. The man Oak and his partner arrested for the original murders in Detroit was tried and convicted, and is still in prison. Oak is wondering now if he arrested the wrong man.
A competent wise guy with a droll sense of humor, Oak works the Florida scene with an initially reluctant Pompano homicide detective before returning to Detroit to rejoin his former partner in reviewing the case that they closed some time before. Leonard lets the reader know what is going on, or at least part of it anyway, revealing just enough to ratchet up the suspense meter past 11 and bounce back and forth in time, balancing plot, characterization and dialogue to concoct a heady, spicy stew of a story. And when the killer makes his ultimate move against Oak during the last fourth of the book, your heart will feel like it’s permanently ensconced in your throat.
I have to mention the dialogue one more time. It’s great. It’s memorable. It’s funny. I spilled coffee on my eReader three separate times before I even hit page 30. But don’t think EYES CLOSED TIGHT is front-end loaded. It is a good one from beginning to end that will keep you up all night reading and be glad for it. Peter Leonard, you owe me a night’s sleep. And maybe a new Kindle.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 4, 2014