The first few times Lincoln Perry gets letters from murderer Parker Harrison, he throws them away. What private investigator hasn't received a plea to prove some criminal's innocence?
But that's not what the persistent Harrison, who has already served his time, wants. He wants to tell Perry a story - and then have Perry tell him the ending.
Well, that's what detectives do, after all. And as novelist Michael Koryta writes in The Silent Hour,this story is intriguing. It seems that in the rolling Ohio countryside outside Cleveland (where Perry lives and works) there's a once-beautiful, extraordinary house, built into a hillside. Called Whisper Ridge, it has been standing empty for 12 years. Its owners - anthropologist Joshua Cantrell and his wife, Alexandra - walked away from it 12 years ago and, apparently, dropped off the face of the planet.
Harrison lived there after he got out of jail 13 years ago, working for the Cantrells as part of a project they were involved in to rehabilitate criminals. He wants to know why they disappeared. He especially wants to know what happened to Alexandra, "the most amazing woman I ever met."
Perry is suspicious about almost everything related to Harrison, but something about the story gets under his skin. Soon he's driving through that countryside, prowling around the empty house, visiting the lawyer who has paid the taxes on it out of a fund Alexandra set up before she left.
The lawyer doesn't know why the Cantrells disappeared, but he has two facts for Perry. Joshua Cantrell's bones were recently foundin the woods just over the Pennsylvania border. And Alexandra's maiden name is Sanabria - as in the most notorious Mob family in Cleveland.
Perry is hooked, and when one of the Sanabrias visits him to warn him off the search, it just sets the hook deeper. Perry's partner, Joe Pritchard, isn't around to help with the case - he's in Florida, recovering from injuries he received during a previous investigation.
Koryta won the 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for best mystery/thriller for his first stand-alone novel, Envy the Night. With The Silent Hour he returns to Perry, the series character of his first three novels. (The first, Tonight I Said Goodbye, was published when Koryta was only 21.)
Koryta has worked as a private investigator, and it gives his novels an authentic quality - a lot of the work such people do is not exactly glamorous. He does a fine job of bringing Cleveland to life, taking Perry to different parts of the city and sending him to dine at landmarks like Sokolowski's University Inn and Mama Santa's.
Perry also takes a side trip to Florida with his journalist girlfriend to visit Joe in Indian Rocks, and gives shoutouts to St. Petersburg's Pacific Wave restaurant and the Poynter Institute. Koryta knows this territory, too - he lives part of the year here and is on the faculty of Eckerd College's annual Writers in Paradise conference, co-founded by Dennis Lehane and Sterling Watson.
The inventive plot of The Silent Hour surprises right up to the end, and in Perry, Koryta has created a classic tough detective - a man with enough dark passages in his own past to recognize them in others, a bulldog who just can't let go until the ending of the story is told, no matter how close to hell it takes him.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.
* * *
The Silent Hour
By Michael Koryta
Minotaur Books, 311 pages, $24.99
Festival author Michael Koryta will appear at the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading on Oct. 24, on the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.