Book Review : Ryan Sayles - Albatross (2018)
I'm a fan of the Richard Dean Buckner novels. I've been a fan for as long as they've been published. He's interesting to me, because he's a fundamentally moral man, doing an immortal job in a fundamentally immortal world and takes out his frustration on people with violence. But he doesn't always choose the right victims for his anger. The Subtle Art of Brutality and Warpath are contemporary detective fiction classics, so I understandably had high expectation for Albatross, the third novel in the series. And it managed to... subvert them, I guess? Albatross is taking you somewhere entirely new and I wasn't ready for that.
The case Richard Dean Buckner is working in Albatross in a double murder: Two nuns have been stabbed on the wrong side of Saint-Ansgar. RDB is not even there in official capacity. He's assisting his old pal from the police force Graham Clevenger, providing another set of eyes for what appears to be a complicated investigation. Who the fuck stabs nuns, right? It's like, a surefire gateway to hell. It's not as simple as it seems. Evil has not overstepped its boundaries or, at least, it doesn't appear to be. What happened to the two nuns happened for a particular reason and that reason is not pretty at all.
Albatross is quite the tonal shift from its predecessors. It's nowhere near as funny or cartoon-y as The Subtle Art of Brutality and Warpath, and it might rub some of you the wrong way. I've personally enjoyed Albatross because I find the source of this shift interesting. Richard Dean Buckner always operated in certitude before. Even when someone uses him under false pretenses, he charges the bad guys (or perceived bad guys) with the energy of a linebacker. That isn't the case in this novel because 1) the case makes him utterly uncomfortable and 2) some of the suspects are priests. Albatross wedges itself in an uncomfortable spot for RDB, which is new and interesting to me.
Why is murder in a religious community an uncomfortable spot for our favorite private detective? Glad you asked because this is also interesting. Now, I'm going to go philosophical on your asses: the death of the two nuns echoes the death of God for RDB. In the Nietzschean sense of the term: it means the death of his source of truth and morality. And his morality (or righteousness, whatever) is the foundation of his identity. If someone can kill nuns, let alone a freakin' priest, there really aren't rules anymore and that also means he spent his life enforcing a belief system that doesn't really exist. Buckner never openly discusses this in the book, but that inherent fear of seeing the foundation of his identity collapse is palpable and this is also new and interesting to me.
So, Albatross is cool for reasons that usually foreign to why Richard Dean Buckner is cool. In other words, it's much more of a conventional mystery than The Subtle Art of Brutality and Warpath, but it's a great conventional mystery. It's smart, dark and morally challenging. I'm just not sure where the mighty RDB is supposed to go from there. Albatross did a great job at deconstructing the man and exposing the doubts behind the iron will and the violent resolve, so I'm not sure how you make him RDB again. Fans of the series will enjoy this one. I would not recommend it to new readers, though. The Richard Dean Buckner novels are a series that needs to be read in order.