Review: East of A by Russell Atwood

After saving a teenage girl from three thugs, private eye Payton Sherwood is rewarded by having the girl steal his gold Rolex, the one nice thing he owns in all the world. Determined to find his watch, he instead finds out that the girl is in real trouble and that homicide is involved. Seemingly incapable of resisting the urge to help a damsel in distress (even if the damsel would rather he did), he enters a world of damaged homeless eccentrics, sleazy nightclubs, drugs, and murder.

I liked Payton Sherwood, a born loser who rarely lets the fact that he’s always going to be broke get him down. The irrational decisions he constantly makes because his heart overrides his head are part of his charm.

Unfortunately, that I liked Payton Sherwood does not mean that I liked East of A. This is because I mostly didn’t like anyone else in it. Not enough time is spent with wayward teenage girl Gloria to develop much concern about what happens to her beyond the natural instinct to worry about a wayward teenage girl. Everyone else is either a scumbag or an extraneous addition or cameo except for former smack addict Jimmy, who we also don’t spend enough time with. Payton cares about getting to the bottom of all this, but I didn’t.

But there’s just enough good here to think that Atwood could develop his writing and his character into something much better than East of A. The second Payton Sherwood novel, Losers Live Longer, was published by Hard Case Crime, who rarely put out bad work. I’m going to give it a shot, because I already own it. Here’s hoping that Payton Sherwood stays intriguing the second time around, and that the other characters are worthier foils.

(The Kindle edition of East of A contains a bonus Payton Sherwood short story, “East Village Noir,” that is superior to the novel and provides additional impetus for me to read Losers Live Longer. Also, the copyediting of the Kindle edition is completely appalling.)