Burying the Newspaper Man is a stylish and engaging police procedural from debut novelist Curtis Ippolito, a San Diego charity worker and former journalist. This novel is in the style and spirit of California noir but is an intriguing and original piece of storytelling. The themes of revenge and child abuse are familiar but this is a very different take on justice served.
Officer Marcus Kemp holds the record for the number of stolen cars recovered in one year: 67. It’s a matter of pride so when he feeds another plate in to the cruiser’s computer and it comes up as stolen he’s in his element, even elated.
It’s early morning in Ocean Beach, San Diego, and there’s no occupant in the blue Nissan Altima so Kemp checks the boot and finds a body. It doesn’t throw him, this is not the first dead person he’s come across on the job. As per procedure he steps off and calls for backup. It’s only when the other officers arrive that he realises with a jolt that he knows the victim. This man abused him as a child back home in Texas.
Kemp is in shock but impulsively he searches the body while the others secure the perimeter. There’s no ID, just a business card for a local landscaping company picked up at a nearby garden show. By the time the homicide detectives turn up, Kemp has pocketed the card. Talking to Kemp, who denies touching anything, it strikes the detectives as odd that an experienced officer should be so shaken by his discovery, but they have a job to get on with.
Meanwhile, Kemp has made a decision to help the killer get away with it. He’s not telling anyone that the man in the trunk is the editor of a local newspaper in Plano, Texas. Kemp is about to open his own private investigation, staying one step ahead of the homicide guys, shutting down clues, destroying evidence. His own little piece of revenge.
When Kemp was 11, his mother brought him to California, leaving his father and Texas behind for good. They made a new life and Kemp did his best to bury the past. Back in Texas he’d got into mischief, which led to a punishment working chores for the local newspaper – it could have been fun, except the paper was run by a monster.
Detectives Barnes and Castillo are getting nowhere on the case, not even close to identifying the victim. And that’s about to be a problem for Kemp – because with no ID on the man, detective Barnes wants to take a look at the city’s best car recovery cop.
The body in the boot and Marcus’s sudden decision to cover for the murderer are an instant hook, while the quality of the writing, Ippolito’s easy prose style and comfortable storytelling, makes Burying the Newspaper Man a pleasure to read.
Ippolito’s skill is revealed in the chapters dealing with the origins of Kemp’s trauma, which is frankly but sensitively handled. This is an empathetic read and the main characters are well drawn, from the slick and creepy news editor Bill to decent but confused officer Kemp. The dilemma of justice versus the law airs a moral issue and is thought-provoking but lightly handled.
Even though the topic is dark you come away with a good feeling after reading this novel, a sense of pleasure in the way things get resolved. But there are twists and some pain here so don’t go thinking Kemp has an easy ride, he doesn’t.
Red Dog Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars