The aspect of a good noir thriller uses the elements of knowing its lead character and then flipping it so he is always catching up. Like any down-on-his-luck former cop, there has to be a sense of a journey or, at least, a clawing back from the cliff. In “Night Tremors” [Matt Coyle/Oceanview/330pgs], PI Rick Cahill just wants to do his thing. He could have Martin Riggs complex (like in “Lethal Weapon” but he is no psycho. He just was framed for the death of his wife which his good friends at the PD could never make stick. Cahill was made a scapegoat for unapparent reasons but it sent him to the fringes of PI society peeping on adulterers and giving the photos to the jealous spouses who hired him. This specific tale shows him wanting to work on a case “to make a difference”. The novel is filled with all kinds of unsavory and colorful characters that bring to mind “Inherent Vice” with less of a need for poetry. This character is probably what The Dude might be doing if he didn’t smoke weed and got a job. Everybody has to have their own little slice of life. Anyway, Cahill does want to think he has a leg up on the rest of the people in the story. But as usual in these kinds of stories, he is being played like everyone else. It is just a matter of how pigheaded he wants to be about the whole scenario. The great thing about how this character is built is that despite breaking the law, he doesn’t truly seem like he is really overstepping his bounds. In certain arenas, you actually like that he is a bit of a pain-in-the-ass. And yet he can feel guilty about taking a case because he likes the client’s cookies (chocolate chip by the way). As reality sets in, the different side traps of women including the sister of a would-be confessor and an ex girlfriend (that still does him favors but he can’t quite commit to) definitely pushes the every man feel. The setting has just the right kind of Southern California sun in La Jolla but without the Hollywood scummy sheen. This geography allows everything from cowboy (literally) lawyers to scummy golf course owners to bad ass biker criminals to sail right in. The ending has the right degree of self righteousness without truly making the resolution solid. However it is good to leave some things to mystery because not every question needs to be answered.
By Tim Wassberg