Over the years, several Crime Fiction Lover contributors have gone on to write their own additions to the genre. It proves that the passion for crime fiction cuts across readers, reviewers and writers. Latest in that list is Victoria Weisfeld, an accomplished short story writer who makes her long-form debut with Architect of Courage.
He’s an acclaimed New York architect, a husband and father. Nothing so far sets Archer Landis up as any kind of hero, does it? But wait – it gets worse, because Arch is having a steamy and secretive affair with one of his associates, so he’s not exactly squeaky clean either. But when his amour Julia is murdered, Arch – albeit reluctantly – steps up to the plate.
Let’s get this straight from the start, Archer is no Jack Reacher, although as Architect of Courage progresses, he reveals himself as something more than a mere pencil pusher. His lion heart is more of the cowardly variety, as found in The Wizard of Oz, but there is nothing to smile about when Arch skips an awards event early and heads to his mistress’s apartment, only to find her slain on the carpet.
What Arch does next cements that previous lily-livered description, because he turns and runs away in panic, terrified that he will be blamed for the murder. He truly loved Julia, but… but… but… as the excuses just keep on coming, we begin to see Arch for the man he really is – or do we?
Arch goes back to the awards dinner, his mind racing. He eats little as he runs the events of the night over and over in his head. Who killed Julia? And why? A chink of light is opened up when the police come to question him, as her employer and friend – because Julia Fernandez was not what she seemed. Just like the supposedly authentic Velazquez painting that hung in pride of place her apartment, she was an out-and-out fake. In reality, Julia was Alia Said, from Michigan, who wormed her way into his affections and then died a terrible death. Could the murder have terrorist connections?
Plenty to be going on with here, but Weisfeld skilfully adds layers to what could have been a simple ‘who killed my girlfriend’ yarn. This is a book that starts slowly, but as the tension ratchets up notch after notch the pace gradually quickens, bringing along with it a heightened feeling of tension. And Arch? Well it is time for him to show his mettle as more deaths occur much closer to home – and when he becomes the literal target of someone’s rage, something in him changes.
Architect of Courage is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and you will be well rewarded if you keep on going when things seems a little low key, early doors. Stay the course and you’ll be kept guessing in a cleverly plotted story that has the power to wrong-foot and surprise.
The action takes place in New York and Brussels, and both places are keenly rendered and full of life. The contrasting locations work well, with the frenetic streets of the Big Apple and the more genteel environs of the Belgian capital serving as backdrop to some pretty dastardly goings on. I also enjoyed the peeks behind the scenes in the high-pressure world of the high-flying architect – which on this showing is a lot more cut-throat than you might think.
I started off actively disliking Archer Landis, who appears both self-centred and untrustworthy upon first acquaintance – but thanks to the sterling work of Weisfeld, making her long form crime writing debut here, I began to warm to him somewhat. As the title suggests, this is a book about courage in its many forms and throughout that journey of discovery – for both reader and character – she certainly puts us through the wringer!
A very different Manhattan serves as the setting for Immoral Origins by Lee Matthew Goldberg.
Black Opal Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars