TITLE: Charlesgate Confidential
AUTHOR: Scott Von Doviak
383 pages, Hard Case Crime, ISBN 9781785657177 (Hardcover and e-book)
DESCRIPTION: A group of criminals in 1946 pull off the heist of the century, stealing a dozen priceless works of art from a Boston museum. Burt while the thieves get caught, the art is never found. Forty years later, the last surviving thief gets out of jail and goes hunting for the loot, involving some innocent college students in his dangerous plans. Thirty years after that, in the present day, the former college kids, now all grown up, are drawn back in to danger as the still-missing art tempts a deadly new generation of treasure hunters. A twist-filled narrative that moves from 1946 to 1988 to 2014 and back again.
MY RATING: 5 stars out of 5
(Disclaimer: although this review is very late in being posted, I did receive a print Advanced Reading Copy from Hard Case Crime / Titan Books in return for an honest review)
In Charlesgate Confidential, Scott Von Doviak expertly weaves three crime novellas with a common location into one narrative whole. Von Doviak could have taken the easy route in telling the story, presenting each novella in chronological order as a separate whole; by interweaving them, alternating chapters between the three time periods and sprinkling in newspaper articles, Von Doviak made his own work harder but made the story as a whole infinitely more interesting and tense.
The 1946 section of the story is a classic heist tale with a dozen twists, dead-ends and reversals. The 1986 section blends a college marijuana comedy with investigative journalism and “The Big Job.” The present-day section weaves a very NYPD Blue vibe with a possible serial killer thread. The tone of each totally captures the feel of the crime fiction of the decade in which it takes place, down to the ’86 section being told in first person and the 2014 detective being rumbled and unhappy in his personal life.
Cast-wise, the 1946 section’s POV is more of an ensemble noir with several disreputable main characters sharing the spotlight as the story moves from illicit gambling den to bars to the heist itself and the job’s repercussions; the 1986 POV is entirely first person with a lot of typical college-guy male-gaze asides; the 2014 section straddles the line with a limited third person POV that sticks mostly, but not entirely, with our disgruntled detective. The shifting styles of POV took only a few chapters for this reader to become comfortable with, but your mileage may vary.
While the POVs are almost entirely male, it’s the female characters who really propel the plot towards every key moment (whether the reader realizes it in the moment or discovers it later). Von Doviak subtly subverts the tropes of the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, the unattainable-college-crush, and the hot-lonely-crime-victim-who-might-know-more-than-she’s-letting-on. The men make mistakes out of hubris or ignorance; the women get the real work done methodically if not always legally.
There are several scenes of striking violence, thankfully not all perpetrated against the women in the cast (although the 2014 section does start with a brutal murder of a woman we barely get to know). Von Doviak doesn’t shy away from showing the physical/emotional costs of being involved with these crimes.
Through it all, the Charlesgate itself looms larger than life, its unique architectural design and varied history (from crime den to flop house to college dorm to gentrified condos) calling to mind equally impressive fictional edifices like the Bramford and the Overlook. It may seem odd to name-check two classis horror novel locations in a noir novel review. Charlesgate Confidential is not a supernatural novel, but the author repeatedly mentions the building’s possible occult history and the feel of the building is the same I felt reading the Levin and King novels.
Charlesgate Confidential is an excellent addition to the Hard Case Crime line, and a great example of how the genre can be reimagined for modern audiences, renovated like the titular building to accommodate new voices and styles while retaining what makes it classic and dependable.