An alcoholic walks into a bar . . . and buys it. In this amateur sleuth mystery, Elder Darrow uses the last of the money from the trust fund his mother left him to buy the Esposito, a bucket-of-blood bar in Boston, hoping to turn it into a jazz nightspot.
Though he knows that working in a bar is going to test his sobriety, he’s relying on the support of his ex-lover, a jazz singer named Alison Somers. The two of them split when Alison moved to New York to further her career but before she left, the two of them made a pact: he’ll stay off the booze if she keeps taking her antidepressants, which keep her from another suicide attempt. Then one day Elder hears that Alison has killed herself by diving out her apartment window. With his sobriety threatened, he follows an instinct that says she wouldn’t have quit taking her meds, or killed herself, without talking to him first. Along the way, Elder encounters a beautiful collector of jazz memorabilia, a Native American gangster with aspirations to management, and a bomb-throwing piano player, as well as the usual stresses and strains of running a bar. But with the reluctant help of his friend Dan Burton, a homicide cop, Elder investigates and exposes the conspiracy of local thugs, corrupt physicians, and shipments of pharmaceuticals of questionable quality, proving that Alison was murdered and who was responsible.
I don’t ordinarily read mysteries, but this story had me hooked from the get-go. The sweet metaphors, the jargon, the staccato dialog — all combined to produce a fine film noir of a novel with endearing characters and a protagonist to root for.
A great little murder mystery set in the city of Boston. The novel has a heavy jazz narrative throughout that I quite enjoyed. I’m not really a jazz fan, and I’m certainly not a knowledgeable one, but I appreciated the musical references worked through the book as we follow recovering alcoholic, and ironically, bar owner, Elder Darrow in his quest to determine the truth behind his ex girlfriend’s death. If you love a broken hero trying to do the right thing, this is a great book.
An exploration of the dark underbelly of the Boston scene……..fueled with racial tension, political intrigue and a complex character that makes you want to know more…………
Wow. I really loved this book. I read a lot and picked this book up on a whim. Once I started, I could hardly put it down. The characters were frail in their humanity and I found myself rooting for them. The story was fast paced and well organized. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.
Loved the novel. Well crafted while keeping you guessing. Very good read. Can’t wait for the next one!! Mark Diamond
Elder Darrow’s family had been in investment banking “since the Revolution.” He was raised to “learn the mores and manners of the ruling caste.” But now he’s a recovering alcoholic and he owns a bar called the Esposito. He’s into jazz. He’s a bit of music nut. Managing the soundtrack at the bar is one of the ways that Darrow is trying to upgrade the reputation of the once-bleak watering hole, purchased with a trust fund windfall. He knows when Paquito Rivera needs be swapped out for Bill Evans. Darrow is trying to upgrade the bar, and its clientele, the same way he’s trying to upgrade how he thinks about himself. His reputation. His last chance for “straightening out” is the management, in fact, of this bar. “All forty-four by fifty feet of it, sixteen-foot tin ceilings and the twelve metal stairs, same number as to the gallows, with a steel-pipe railing up to the street door.” There’s a triangular stage in the corner, “big enough for a trio as long as none of them was fat.” Darrow has been sober for a year a half, but has positioned himself smack in the middle of temptation, pouring drinks for others. Darrow’s days as the owner of a pub started with a grand bargain. The deal was that his father’s bank would hire him if he could stay dry for two years and run the Esposito at a profit. But then dad died and he is left to wonder why he still cares. Elder Darrow is good at asking questions of himself. One of Darrow’s regulars is a jazz-loving cop named Dan Burton who gets called away on a “sidewalk diver.” That suicide turns out to be a singer named Alison Somers. Darrow had been “utterly absorbed” with Somers for six months and the idea of her taking her own life doesn’t sit well. As the motivation for amateur sleuths go, this is a nifty one. Darrow’s interests in Somers’ demise tangle with his own personal journey of discovery and the daily tests of his sobriety. His background, after all, could not have been more different than her youth in Roxbury, the poorest part of the city. How well did he know her? He had a pact with Somers—and assumed the pact remained despite the split. The deal was this: he would stay sober if she’d keep taking her anti-depressants. “But if I were ever going to be sure of that, I was going to have to find out for myself. Because I was afraid that if she had killed herself, then I would find my own reason to start drinking again, and then both of our stories would be over. If I didn’t do something, I was failing her memory and probably obliterating my own.” With this great set-up, Solo Act follows Darrow as he begins asking questions and poking around. This isn’t a case of bar/restaurant turned Jack Reacher, it’s a case of one real man taking one step and then the next to get at some troubling and unresolved questions. Cass doesn’t push the pace, he lets the weight of Somers’ demise tug on Darrow’s soul. Crafted for humanity and not designed to set pulses racing, Richard Cass chops in nifty, poetic snippets of Boston streets and alleys, noir-ish vibes and sounds (cue the sorrowful sax.) Cass intersperses Darrow’s trail with chapters that give us glimpses into the lives of the prescription pill bootleggers with their questionable plans and distrust in the ranks. The Boston setting comes to life, but it’s a glitz-free view with back alley trash and dank smells. There’s a woman. And temptations. Failure lurks. One slip and Darrow know he won’t get credit for all the time he stayed clean. Darrow examines addiction from all angles. The investigation becomes a reflection of his own nature as much as finding out why Alison plunged to her death. In the end, Darrow is both bartender and barfly. He’s the wise mixologist, a bartender keenly aware of the poison he’s dispensing, and he’s got a burning need to know.
You can hear the echo of good jazz throughout Solo Act, both live, recorded and in the imagination of Elder Darrow, as the flawed but believable hero works behind the bar of the Esposito or drives his aging Cougar around the streets of Boston. A quick paced interesting read – would like to follow Darrow through future adventures. Dubai, UAE
With the tail-end of a week-long migraine snapping back to sting me again like a broken garter on a 1950’s girdle, I was looking for a good story to distract me from my problems, which included one serious headache and, of course, one man. So I picked up Cass’s /Solo Act/ and for the rest of the weekend when I was lucid I was following around Cass’s characters until I looked up in the dark of the night from the final page and thought to myself, “Damn, that move to Maine did Dick good, and he definitely needs to finish that next Elder Darrow mystery.”
I was delighted to find Solo Act’s Darrow to be every bit as tender and engaging as Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Oh, yes, he’s been around the block and has his demons, alcohol being the most fierce, but Elder Darrow, Richard Cass’s rough-around-the-edges bar owner/amateur detective, is also sensitive and articulate. Though I admire the plot line, the gritty texture and the well-developed secondary characters, it is Elder who made this debut a page-turner for me. This is fast pacing in the best sense. By the middle of the second page, the reader has a clear vision of place, a great intro to Darrow and Burton, his complicated cop sidekick. Also evident early on and woven throughout the fabric of the novel is Darrow’s love and deep knowledge of Jazz. There is craft here too, beautiful sentences and carefully chosen details. Darrow’s bar, the Esposito – named perhaps for Phil Esposito, the great Bruin center –is on Mercy St. Though not everyone in the novel receives mercy, Cass imbues his characters with humanity. Even the creepy Dr. desRosiers, one of the colorful villains in the novel, “thought he was doing the right thing.” Solo Act is a fine introduction to the Elder Darrow Mystery Series. I eagerly await the second installment.
This one delivers. Cass’s debut is an intriguing story about an alcoholic who buys and reinvents a bar, the Esposito. Full of fascinating characters, great music, and a mystery that needs unraveling, Solo Act will keep you guessing.
An excellent read with a high "believability factor". Elder Darrow’s world is populated with some fascinating characters who beg you to become better acquainted. Mr. Cass has obviously had some decent inside experience in the dive bar world, and delivers to us the Esposito. Let’s just say that I look forward to spending more time at the Esposito with Elder Darrow and friends…
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