Book Review : Sam Wiebe - Cut You Down (2018)
Pre-Order Cut You Down here (available on February 13)
I have a fondness for detective novels that few people share. And yet they're not that different from quintessential heroes everyone appreciates, like knight, cowboys and, well policemen. The main difference is that they don't have the law of God or the law of men in their side. Their quest for truth is existential instead of moral. Few good detective characters have emerged in the twenty-first century (thanks to internet, social media and the overexposition to basically everything), but Sam Wiebe's Vancouver-based PI David Wakeland showed great promise in Invisible Dead.
Well, the sequel Cut You Down will be released on February 13 and it's a pretty fantastic hardboiled mystery, guys.
The premise of Cut You Down isn't going to blow you out of the water, but it doesn't matter. A mystery isn't supposed to reinvent the wheel, they're a game of wits you play with its author. So, here it is: a young student named Tabitha Sorenson has disappeared with a large sum of money. She's not the scheming type, but she was part of a scheming government and people are afraid she'll turn up dead. Her teacher Dana Essex hires David Wakeland in order to find out what might've happened, but I'm sure you might expect: people tend to get shitty when money is involved.
So, I thought Cut You Down was excellent, but what made it excellent, exactly? One thing I particularly enjoyed was Sam Wiebe's classic, Raymond Chandler-esque cynical first person narration set to contemporary issues that range from sexual harassment to gentrification and multicultural neighborhoods. It's good to see a classic PI being the good guy in 2018 and not an alcoholic womanizer pastiche. David Wakeland is monogamous (although he has sex with two women in the book), passionate, tortured and cruelly self-aware. Cut You Down will make you ask more out of your next detective novels. It'll be more difficult to accept Chandler pastiche when you see he can be properly incorporated to a contemporary setting.
Let's talk about David Wakeland some more, because he's really the selling point of Cut You Down. He is such a complex, nuanced and engaging character that he raises the bar for what a hardboiled protagonist should be. Wakeland is an angry and difficult person. He's not exactly wisecracking or magnetic like, let's say Raylan Givens, but he's got wits and enough charisma to weave himself into life or death conversation. Perhaps my favorite scene in Cut You Down is when he loses it on a young gang leader and decides to hurt him. That scene really transmits how precarious the control David Wakeland exerts over himself is. It's powerful and revealing.
Sam Wiebe is a master of tone and atmosphere, and Cut You Down is a celebration of everything that's good about his writing. I thought the second half of the novel was a little too winded and predictable for my own taste, up to a point where it bridged the gap between hardboiled and airport mystery, but it was already sold on the characters by then. So, it was more exasperating than disappointing. I love reading about Wiebe's byzantine Vancouver, its mysteries and the insincere people that inhabits its underbelly. Get cracking on your own Sam Wiebe habit with Invisible Dead, so you'll be ready for Cut You Down in two weeks.