cover image An Occasional Hell

An Occasional Hell

Randall Silvis. Permanent Press (NY), $28 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-877946-24-0

An unusually morbid detective protagonist, a verbosely stylized opening and occasional passages of vibrant prose produce mixed results in this first mystery from Silvis ( The Luckiest Man in the World ), a Drue Heinz Literature Prize winner. Before his kidneys and liver were riddled by bullets, Ernest DeWalt was a Chicago PI and successful novelist. Now a college professor in rural Pennsylvania, he survives with a soured attitude, an ever-present catheter hidden beneath his shirt, and a regimen that allows him no booze and no sex. DeWalt's reveries on love and lost promise are interrupted when a philandering colleague, Alex Catanzaro, is killed in a farmland trysting place and his widow asks the former PI for help. For years Catanzaro had had an affair with a local waitress, now missing, with no resistance from her husband, a drug-addicted rock musician, also missing. After a convoluted and mannered beginning, Silvis settles into the action, lacing his narrative with astute observations and hard truths. Though flawed, this work succeeds in leaving dark images to linger in the reader's mind. (Feb.)