October 12, 2015

A Novel in Three Acts

Robert Greer’s eighth novel, First of State, in his CJ Floyd series, is the first prequel novel I’ve ever read. It made me wonder why the series didn’t begin with this prequel novel that describes how CJ Floyd became a bail bondsman, bounty hunter, and amateur detective. As I read the novel, I didn’t discover anything new about his personality that Greer had not already revealed in the previous seven novels. 

First of State, divided into three parts, reads like the first novel of an author trying to make sure the plot has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In Part 1 CJ returns home to Denver in 1971 after serving two tours in Vietnam as a Gunners Mate First Class manning a .50 caliber machine gun on a patrol boat in the Mekong River Delta. He struggles to adjust to civilian life. With the help of Wiley Ames, an ex-alcoholic who lost an arm in WWII, he Partially rids himself of the Vietnam nightmares. 

His Uncle Ike also helps. He asks CJ to join him in the bail bond business and teaches him how to be a bounty hunter and investigator. CJ applies the investigative lessons in finding out who killed Billy Larkin, the son of Ike’s longtime lady friend Marguerite. CJ also feels an obligation to investigate the murder of Ames and Ames’s friend Quan Lee Chin. The killings are referred to as the GI Joe’s murders because the two men were killed behind GI Joe’s Pawnshop where Ames worked.

In Part 2, five years later, CJ has settled into civilian life. He becomes the protector of the residences in the black community of Five Points where he grew up. If anyone has a problem with bad guys, he steps in to correct the situation. He receives no money for his services until Willis Sundee, a prominent businessman, asks him to talk to a man named Walt Reasoner from whom Willis and other Five Points small businessmen buy their produce. Reasoner is shaking down small businessmen in Five Points. Since the large produce suppliers refuse to sell to the small businesses because it’s unprofitable, Reasoner is the only supplier. He raises his prices, and anyone who refuses to pay could go out of business, end up seriously injured or dead. Willis offers to pay CJ to stop the unscrupulous Reasoner, and CJ accepts the job. He still thinks about the GI Joe’s murders. 

Part 3 continues the main plot with CJ pursuing the GI Joe’s murders against the advice of his friend Rosie Weeks and Uncle Ike. Petey Greene, CJ’s friend from grade school, is killed because he has been following and watching Gaylord Marquee for CJ. He suspects Marquee might be involved in the murders. CJ now has three murders to solve: Wiley Ames, Quan Lee Chin, and Petey Greene. Petey’s mother Syrathia pays him $500 to find Petey’s killer. CJ feels he owes it to Petey to catch his killer and doesn’t want to take her money. However, a look from Uncle Ike says take the money because not to do so would insult her. The clue to the murders is in the pictures Petey took of a Quonset hut belonging to Gaylord Marquee.

Bland describes First of State. The novel had no emotional effect on me. Nothing is unexpected. Everything that happens is predictable. Parts 1 and 2 are mini-plots that develop the character of CJ Floyd but add nothing to the main plot. In the first two parts CJ is advised to give up his search for the GI Joe’s murderers, which keeps the main plot in the reader’s mind but doesn’t necessarily advance the plot. CJ never explains why he feels obligated to solve the murders of a man he knew for only two days and a man he knew not at all. 

CJ is a collector, especially of state license plates. The title, First of State, refers to the first license plates issued in a state.

As always, I suggest you read the novel and draw your own conclusion. You might enjoy it even if I didn’t.

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