Dirt, the debut novel by Sean Doolittle, drew rave reviews and was chosen as a Top 100 Editor’s Pick by amazon.com in 2001. That mean’s I loved the book, right? Well, not so fast. The book was well-written and Doolittle obviously did meticulous research when it came to cemeteries and mortuaries, which was the setting for this book. All-in-in it was a damn good book. However, there was something about it that just didn’t click with me. It was as if something was missing. In trying to figure out how I felt about Dirt, I checked out Doolittle’s Web site and here is what his bio says: “Sean Doolittle is the award-winning author of Dirt, Burn, Rain Dogs, and The Cleanup. His latest book is Safer. He lives in western Iowa with his family.” Well, there you go. Like the bio, Dirt is technically sound but it just didn’t have the charisma, character or soul I expected. Has Doolittle ever been to Los Angeles, where the book takes place? Probably. But I just don’t think he’s lived there or experienced the city enough to take this book to the next level. The main character, Quince Bishop, is a slacker and Doolittle pretty much nailed that character. But when it came to ex-cons Billy Guilder and Carl Rosen, I wasn’t sold. The story starts as Bishop is at the funeral of his best friend. Through a series of events, Bishop gets involved in a mystery involving the cemetery and also gets involved with Marie Casteneda, a funeral rights activist. The relationship between Bishop and Casteneda is interesting. Things progress nicely until we learn Casteneda is hiding a secret. But since Bishop never finds out and there isn’t a confrontation, what’s the point of mentioning it? Bottom line, if you’re looking for realistic, bad ass characters, Pelecanos or Bruen are for you; if you don’t mind the obvious flaw of your typical good guy from the Midwest trying to write about bad guys and bad things and want a very solid, well-written mystery novel, Dirt is worth reading.
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