Liquid Smoke; Jeff Shelby

It’s been five years or so since I read, thoroughly enjoyed, and reviewed Jeff Shelby’s second book, Wicked Break, featuring surfer-sleuth Noah Braddock. Of the hundreds of ARC (advance reviewers’ copy) books I have received over the years, I have put aside a handful for re-reading, and Wicked Break is one of the chosen few in that elite group. So when I got an email from Jeff Shelby’s publicist inquiring whether I’d be interested in having a look at his latest Noah Braddock novel, I thought “this is one of the great perks of this job”, and replied in eager affirmative.

The new book, entitled Liquid Smoke, finds the wisecracking PI between gigs, enjoying the San Diego surf. He has been teaching his cop girlfriend, Liz Santangelo, how to surf, and it is beginning to pay off, both in terms of her skill level, and in the quality of their time together. A short distance down the down the jetty from the couple, a bikini-clad young woman appears to have her eye on Braddock.

“Maybe she wants lessons,” Liz suggested, her tone somewhere between amused and annoyed.
“Jealousy. It always makes my day.”
Liz rolled her eyes. “I’m not jealous.”
“Said the really jealous woman.”
She tried to hold in a laugh but failed. “Whatever. I’m leaving.”

The woman in question turns out to be one Darcy Gill, an attorney from San Francisco, who is interested in engaging Braddock’s services in a stay-of-execution appeal for convicted killer Russell Simington. Braddock appears singularly uninterested, so Gill plays her trump card: “Russell Simington is your father.” Not bad, as trump cards go.

Against his better judgement, Braddock visits Simington in San Quentin, and any doubts he had about Simington’s paternity disappear like smoke in the wind. Looking at Simington is like looking at a mirror image of himself, thirty-odd years down the road. There is no question about Simington’s guilt; he freely admits to the murders, and seems quite anxious to get the execution over with. There were some extenuating circumstances to the killings, however, and Braddock finds himself drawn into his father’s tale, even eager to help out.

It will prove Braddock’s undoing, in ways neither he nor the reader can imagine. Liquid Smoke is an altogether darker novel than any of the previous Braddock books, still full of the expected witty repartee, but with an edge this time around. It will set up the next few books in the series with an entirely different Noah Braddock, one I look forward to meeting.

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