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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Photo credit: Nick Shockey / nshockey.express@gmail.com
A letter from the editor
February 6, 2024

Murder and intrigue

Photo Illustration by Jack Remson
Photo Illustration by Jack Remson

Like its hero, William Doonan’s Grave Passage: A Henry Grave Mystery is a mix of bumbling comedy, cruise ship advertisement and classic hard-boiled noir.

Grave is a private investigator employed by the fictional cruise line Sakato-Kobe, in this case to investigate the murder of a former FBI profiler. Robert Samson was killed just before he was to reveal a killer in his role as entertainment for the ship’s passengers. Grave has just a few days to solve the crime before the ship hits the port of Miami, where U.S. law enforcement will take over.

The premise is a little dubious– it seems odd that someone would announce the reveal of a murderer, putting himself in the cross hairs of said killer. However, the investigation proceeds somewhat realistically, with Grave interviewing passengers and crew behind his persona as a doddering old man.

The other players in Grave Passage are written well, serving their purpose in bouncing off Grave, but aren’t very complex– the captain, the mobsters, the Russian cosmonaut– and the only one that comes close to seeming like a real person is the South American general in exile.

Grave is 84, so, predictably, most of the humor revolves around “old-guy”-isms; he loses his glasses, loses his hearing aid, tells rambling stories, forgets what he’s doing and falls asleep accidentally. He speaks his mind and flirts shamelessly. Some of this is apparently a facade, hiding the “hard-boiled” detective. The rest of the book, though, is written so comically that the infrequent instances of Grave’s seriousness don’t seem believable.

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One thing that can be said for the writing is that it’s from Grave’s perspective. It’s a bit jumbled, but that seems to be by design– a book written by an old man with a poor memory.

Grave Passage has plenty of red herrings, eclectic characters, love interests, smart women and sudden moments of violence, all hallmarks of the mystery genre.  The violence, too, seems out-of-place in this oddly light-hearted murder mystery, though there are only a few moments. Compared to other contemporary mysteries, the violent scenes are minimal; in fact, the only thing that makes them stand out is the constant comedy surrounding them.

It would have been refreshing to see the light-hearted tone continue throughout, to see, for once, a mystery book not end in bloodshed.

The climax of the book is unexpected, though the manner in which Grave “solves” the crime is telegraphed much earlier (think titanium hip). The book has its share of twists and wraps up neatly, though Doonan does leave himself open for a sequel.  The title of the book makes it clear that he’s hoping for a series.

Grave Passage is a respectable first-time mystery; however, the $22 price tag at Amazon.com is a bit steep for a relatively unknown author. Hopefully his solid formula will improve in subsequent Henry Grave Mysteries.

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