Ashe Cayne

Created by Ian K. Smith

What is this shit?


I’m told the author is a popular TV doctor with a string of diet books and novels to his name, but this is not the genre’s finest hour.

The Unspoken (2020), the series launch, is inept, smugly derivative and ultimately offensive to almost anyone who has any kind of moral compass.

It marks the debut of private eye ASHE CAYNE, a poorly imagined, two-dimensional Spenser clone who lacks the wit, charm or staunch moral code of Robert B. Parker’s hero.

Okay, yes, he’s a big, tough ex-cop who works as a private detective, packs a gun, reads lots of books and can quote, without much prompting, Shakespeare. He cooks with gourmet flair, and generally has a taste for the finer things in life, from fine wines to his own reflection. He’s pretty much perfect.

Unfortunately, he lacks any sense of humour or humility—he’s mostly just an insufferable boor with a sense of superiority that just won’t quit. He even has a small dog, a large gym rat sidekick with underworld ties who’s even more dangerous than he is, and a smart, sexy girlfriend who picks at her food.

Mind you, there are significant differences. Really significant. This is Chicago, not Boston, and Cain’s wealthy, and he’s obsessed with golf. And he’s Black, so he checks some Woke boxes over at CrimeReads, I guess.

And unlike Spenser, Cayne only takes the cases that interest him, thanks to his being independently wealthy.

See? Completely different character! 

The main plot is solid enough, if nothing special—it’s a meandering wandering-daughter-job, with Cayne hired to find a twenty-something heiress from one of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful families, who disappeared on her way to a friend’s house. It’s all narrated by Mr. Wonderful himself, and is pretty standard issue for the genre, with numerous family secrets ultimately dragged into the light. It’s a little slow paced, but there’s another plot that keeps barging in that’s the real sand in the Vaseline.

It’s that secondary storyline that moves this book from so-so and right smack against my wall. It follows an unidentified narrator, never clearly identified as Cayne) who  abducts a child molester, keeping him prisoner, and slowly torturing him. Is this Cayne speaking? Or some other jackass? The two plots never so much as touch, or even acknowledge each other, so whatever iffy moral high ground this always nameless narrator claims (What? That the sexual abuse of children is bad? Therefore let’s sexually abuse adults?) is very shaky indeed, and fails to hide the fact that this is essentially torture porn for mouth-breathing cynics.

What on earth was the good doctor trying to say?

Is it writing chops he lacks, or just the moral courage to speak out clearly?

We may never find out. It is unspoken.


  • “Ian K. Smith is a worthy modern successor to Hammett and Chandler.”
    — Authorlink
  • “No. No, he isn’t.”
    — the editor
  • “Dr. Ian K. Smith first rose to prominence for his medical expertise (and winning smile); of late he has turned his considerable intelligence and charm towards crafting intricate mysteries full of heroes you actually want to root for.”
    — M.O. (October 2020, CrimeReads)
  • “Fuck his winning smile.”
    — the editor


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And a special shout-out to Greil Marcus for les mot justes.

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