A PURE DOUBLE CROSS is the first book of the "American Spy Trilogy." Hal Schroeder returns to Cleveland, Ohio after two years as an OSS spy in World War II. Compound the emotions from the war with the fact that Hal's girlfriend married another man while he was at war, and you're left with a hardened and bitter man.
When the FBI recruit Hal to go undercover in the Cleveland mob, Hal sees the opportunity as a chance to turn a double cross and make enough of a fortune to sail off into the sunset. But, things don't turn out to be quite as easy as that.
Of course the first thing that attracted me to this particular book was the fact that it was set in Cleveland, Ohio. But, not only is it set in Cleveland, it's 1945 Cleveland. Knoerle does an exemplary job of depicting the city. I am by no means a Cleveland historian, so if there are minor inaccurate details, I wouldn't be aware of them. But I had no problems visualizing the city Knoerle describes, especially the effects of the steel mills on the city.
But the setting isn't the only element that Knoerle did a nice job describing. I absolutely fell in love with Knoerle's illustration of a jazz trumpet player performing:
"Fats switched gears. His eyes got big and he began to talk through his trumpet. That's what it sounded like, I swear. The rhythm section kept up a backbeat as Fats Navarro gave out with his sermon, his soliloquy.
"The audience pricked up their ears, this chubby-cheeked kid was saying things that needed to be said. I dug the jive-crazy intensity of it but, watching the dark rapt faces of the crowd, I also felt out of place, felt like a spy. Whatever message Fats Navarro was sending out through the bell of his trumpet wasn't meant for me.
"He went on for a long time, whispering seductively, snarling in anger, finally winding down to an extended breathless pleading that froze the crowd in their seats and shamed the big talkers at the bar into silence.
The characterization is interesting in this book in the fact that you aren't necessarily supposed to like the protagonist. Hal is a turncoat. He's in this job for himself and he wants to screw everyone else involved. But, while he's bitter and hardened, there's still a part of a conscience that's lurking underneath, so you can't completely dislike him. Hal, as with most all the other characters, is dynamic. There are quite a few layers built up in him and his cynicism throws in a touch of humor. There are no white hats and black hats in this caper.
But, I have to say, the strength of this novel falls squarely in the plot. The twists and double crosses in this plot keep the reader on his/her toes and turning the pages. And when you combine the complexity of the plot with the murkiness of the characters, you're challenged as a reader.
I read this book on my five-hour flight to California. It sure didn't feel like five hours!
A PURE DOUBLE CROSS is published by Blue Steel Press.