Andrew Welsh-Huggins has got their number — the number that relates to classic hard-boiled mystery novels with flawed heroes; complicated goings-on that come clear only in the final pages; love affairs a long way from first love but more interesting than that well-traveled route; and an ending that brings you up short by way of revealing things, logical but surprising, that neither you nor the central character guessed. So, it’s great fun to read.
Welsh-Huggins’ new mystery novel, Slow Burn, is his second, following Andy Hayes, one-time college football star now disgraced. It’s a good read. Hayes has turned detective — or “private investigator,” as he prefers to call himself — more or less because there didn’t seem to be anything else to do. He doggedly follows slim leads in a seemingly dead-end case, has some agonizing experiences and comes out a winner in the end. But the extra attraction -— the surprising starring role — is the city of Columbus, Ohio, where it all takes place. Welsh-Huggins is a legal affairs reporter with the Associated Press, based in Columbus, and he treats his city as a character in his novel. When Hayes gets in his car, we are told what street he is going down, where he is in his city and sometimes what that means in terms of the quest he is on at the time. Even though I don’t know Columbus any better than I know Dubuque, Iowa, this is pretty much fun. Which leads me to think, there’s not been a Cincinnati private eye to my knowledge since Jonathan Valin’s Harry Stoner was racketing around Over-the-Rhine and elsewhere in the last century. Is it time for a murder in East Hyde Park? Somebody shopping at Findlay Market sees something unexpected? I throw this out for any incipient mystery writers among CityBeat readers, and wish them well.
Welsh-Huggins’ work is clean and swift. He’s having a fine time here, as does the reader. Grade: A