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The Crooked Street


The Crooked Street

At one point towards the end of THE CROOKED STREET, Frost Easton's best friend Herb, who is nearly twice his age, tells him, “Sometimes the road to justice is a crooked street.” This bit of wisdom provides one of the meanings behind the book's title. This third installment in Brian Freeman's series also reflects the physical street on which Frost, many of the principal characters and some of the victims live in San Francisco.

Freeman likes using Mark Twain quotes to open his stories. The one included here --- “It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart” --- is quite prophetic, especially once the last page is turned. The winding, crooked street is called Lombard, which also may be the name of a possibly fictional crime lord who allegedly has been responsible for most of the evildoing in San Francisco for what seems like decades.

Whether or not Lombard is behind the activity in Frost's latest case will have to take a back seat to the action at hand, especially when the first dead body that turns up happens to be an old friend of Frost. Denny Clark had been estranged from Frost for many years, but that doesn’t mean that his murder has any less impact. The fact that Denny actually expired at Frost's place makes things that much more personal. Just before he died, Denny gasped one word to Frost: “Lombard.”

"Freeman may be from Minnesota, but he clearly knows his way around the San Francisco area. The end result is another stellar effort in this terrific series that seems to get more layered and personal with each new release."

Denny ran a charter boat, and business had been booming for him. Still, someone wanted him dead. Before Frost even has a chance to get his investigation off the ground, he trips over a local private investigator who is already on the trail. P.I. Dick Coyle indicates that he feels a serial killer is on the loose in San Francisco and Denny has just become his latest victim. He also points out that local graffiti in the image of a snake shows up right around the area of one of the murders. Frost now starts noticing that there are snakes all around the neighborhood, 13 at the time Coyle made him aware of them. The San Francisco P.D. does not want to believe any of this, especially Detective Gorham, who plays down the snake symbolism and outwardly distrusts Coyle.

Frost needs to find some footing in this case, which becomes especially difficult when each new lead or person he meets winds up missing or dead. Coyle himself is “bitten” by the snake killer, and Frost is at a loss as to why. It seems that some of the murder victims, as well as a few of the missing suspects, were on a charter boat trip manned by Denny. Apparently, serious evildoing was taking place during the excursion, and powerful people may be mopping up after their mess. Of course, things come back around to the infamous Lombard, who may or may not have been among the passengers. Frost had believed that Lombard was a bad joke that was perpetuated through the years as a way to lay blame on random cold cases. However, he starts thinking that there may be an actual flesh-and-blood answer behind this mystery.

The fact that Frost's boss, Police Chief Hayden, demands to only meet outside of the office to discuss the case leads Frost to believe that the roots of the murder spree and possible link to Lombard may be far more serious than originally thought. He even begins to suspect that Lombard could be somebody on the inside, maybe even a fellow law enforcement colleague. Frost's buddy, Herb, actually refers to Lombard as being his Moriarty --- a great shout-out to the Sherlock Holmes series. When Frost comes home to find a charm hanging from his cat's neck that is in the shape of a snake, he suddenly realizes how close he may be to the truth. He also recognizes that he may have made himself another loose end that needs tying.

I've described Brian Freeman's style as incredibly smooth, and all of that is on display in THE CROOKED STREET. What seems like a local crime quickly grows into something much larger, like a serpentine coil of red herrings and victims snaking up and down the uneven, hilly streets of San Francisco. Just when the reader is lulled into a false sense of security, Freeman pulls the rug out from under you, leaving you dizzy. His descriptions of Frost's San Francisco neighborhood are so vivid that they put you right there and allow you to feel everything the protagonist is experiencing.

Probably the most powerful part of the book is the city of San Francisco itself and the “crooked street” where the majority of the characters reside. In fact, you can practically feel the city breathing on each passing page. Freeman may be from Minnesota, but he clearly knows his way around the San Francisco area. The end result is another stellar effort in this terrific series that seems to get more layered and personal with each new release. I can guarantee that you will be reeling after you’ve read the last line and will be hoping that the follow-up comes as soon as possible.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 1, 2019

The Crooked Street
by Brian Freeman