Monday, December 9, 2013

RUNAWAY MAN - David Handler
First line: "I couldn't stop staring at Mr. Classy Guy's shoes."

David Handler may be best known for his Hoagy and Lulu series, but up until The Runaway Man, I hadn't read David's work. Since The Runaway Man kicks off a new Handler series, featuring Benji Golden, I thought it would be the perfect place to start. And I chose the audio, narrated by a favorite of mine, Peter Berkrot. I don't think they could have found a better fit for this narration.

Benji is a private eye who specializes in finding people, especially young people. He works with his mother in their family business that his now deceased father, a former cop, started. Golden Legal Services is just a small business and they struggle against the big corporate firms, so when Peter Seymour of Bates, Winslow, and Seymour comes in with a job that seems slightly askew of the up-and-up Benji and his mother decide to take the case anyway.

Peter Seymour claims that he has a client that wishes to bequeath a substantial sum to a young man by the name of Bruce Weiner. But Bruce, unbeknownst to his parents and roommate, is missing from his college; Seymour wants Benji to find him. And Benji does find him, only he finds him dead.

Realizing that he led the killer to Bruce, Benji makes his mission to find out who killed Bruce and why. But his mission turns even deadlier before the answers can be unearthed.

Benji Golden is an odd mix of hormones and life experience, which make for a complex character that's two parts fun, one part curiosity and three parts compassion. Berkrot nailed the recipe and had me laughing, eye rolling and tearing up.  

Benji is the stand-out star in this book, but his mother Abby and the office manager Rita (both former exotic dancers) give Benji a run for his money. While Handler sexifies the women, he counters that brilliantly with brains for both babes. Berkrot emphasizes in both women how their intellect and life experiences drive who they are. But they're cagey as well. Life has taught them that their sex appeal is a tool and they're very adept at using it for the best intentions.

And while Benji has hormones raging throughout the novel, he also has restraint. Handler seems to be using Benji as a depiction of man's animal instincts versus his free will. While those elements of his character battle it out, his compassion reigns supreme. Berkrot displays the hierarchy perfectly. Misbalanced, Benji could come across as very unlikable; instead he's a hero.

The humor lends a lightness to the novel, but Handler juggles numerous social issues throughout the plot as well. The complexity results in an engrossing story and the beginning of what looks to be a winning new series. With any luck, Berkrot will remain the voice of this new star in PI novels.

Runaway Man is available on unabridged audio (ISBN: 9781469249483) from Brilliance Audio. It is also available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781250011626) from Minotaur.


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