Created by Michael Pool
She’s got a complicated personal history that includes a dead older brother whom she idolized, two dead parents and a busted marriage she still feels guilty about. Her only living relative is her other brother, Chip, an ex-con, alcoholic shit bird, and her only real friend is Latonya Johnson (annoyingly nicknamed “L”), a nurse at the local hospital who’s currently living with Riley. Their friendship dates back to her childhood, but lately they haven’t been getting along so well–L is constantly on Riley’s case about straightening up her life. And L’s right.
It’s hard to sympathize with Riley, mostly because she never seems to shut up about her personal problems, and it doesn’t help that her debut, the enthusiastic but overwritten Throwing Off Sparks (2020), is narrated by Riley herself. She’s hired by a wealthy couple to protect their teenage daughter Carmen, who seems to have a stalker, but Riley’s investigation is soon derailed when her brother is released from prison, and promptly moves in to the old family home with Riley and L.
There’s a lot going on here: gun fights, chases, deep family secrets (both the detective’s and the victim’s) to be revealed, white trash thugs, tornadoes, drug dealers and even a surprisingly helpful handsome local cop. So it would be nice to say Riley rises to the occasion, but she doesn’t. She whines and sidles up to things, and stumbles through, more than anything. Which is too bad–there might be an interesting character here (somewhere).
After all, a hard luck young P.I. in East Texas, a workaholic working out of a former used car dealership that belonged to her grandfather, and trying to deal with growing up? One who’s already got something of a local rep for nailing a serial killer? One who has a gun, but prefers to wreak havoc with a Taser? There are real possibilities here. Even if she is as emotionally damaged and fragile as she claims.
If only she would shut up about it.
It would be better if we actually saw her being tough, instead of watching waterfalls of self-pity roar, interjected by Riley telling us how tough she is–the old “show, don’t tell” maxim seems to have been completely ignored here. Instead, we’re given a play-by-play of her emotional state that sucks the oxygen out of the book.
What’s more distressing is that Throwing Off Sparks is the first book released by P.I. Tales, a brash new independent content creator and publisher based in Denver, Colorado whose goal is to launch “a new generation of private investigator mystery series. Each tale will pay homage to the great detectives of the ‘Golden Age’ while adding to that tradition a new roster of modern detectives investigating the contemporary world. Separated by locale, but also by personality and approach, each detective’s series within the P.I. Tales collection will bring its own unique perspective and approach. They may even cross paths from time to time…”
Michael lives and writes in Denver, Colorado, where he investigates real mysteries by day and trains grappling martial arts by night. His stories have appeared in magazines such as All Due Respect, Heater, and Thuglit, as well as in numerous crime anthologies. He also writes the Rick Malone private investigator series, and the founder of P.I. Tales, a publishing imprint that publishes his private eye books.
- “Weathering the Storm” (2019, The Eyes of Texas)