Definitely not a cozy, Back Bay Blues by Peter Colt is nevertheless well-written and fulfilling. A good read for fans of Boston like me, with empathy for the difficulties of Viet Nam (or any combat) vets, seeking a rewarding path in the less intense environment of everyday society.
The last few chapters had me on my toes, unable to rise from my recliner to attend to comparatively mundane household details. The twists and turns of the plot, the imminent danger, the implications of unresolved tensions left over from the conflict that officially ended decades ago but apparently continues today through the efforts of underground organizations, offered much food for thought.
Star character Any Roarke, former Viet Nam war strategist, seeks solace for his post war issues by offering his services as an – in Roarke’s own words – “less strong, charming and well-dressed” Spenser style private investigator. I found Andy Roarke’s demeanor comforting, the violent scenes realistic for the theme, yet not too overwhelming.
The mystery involves a friend of Roarke’s, a Viet Namese refugee who struggled and saved in order to eventually become a successful restauranteur, well able to support his family, in the Boston suburb of Quincy.
Roarke hears a story of a stash of gold from ‘Nam which may still exist in a ship anchored off the coast of San Francisco. The PI has to know if it still exists, so risks his life, with the help of another veteran Viet Nam brother, to find the answer. A dramatic conclusion, back in Boston brings the loose ends together.
We are left with a greater understanding of the main character’s strengths and vulnerabilities as we follow him thorough relationships with an attractive female Boston Police Detective and a sexy foreign agent, observe his ever present need to play an essential role involving careful planning and risk, resulting in the equally acceptable, from his perspective, result of either triumph or death. An unshakable desire left over from days of playing a key part, thanks to talented planning and much luck, in the conflict against communism that was the stated purpose of the US campaign in Viet Nam.
A lesson in history and human psychology wrapped up in an exciting adventure story whose lighter moments include tales of a meal at Boston’s Historic Union Oyster House and at the home of Roarke’s eccentric friend on the California Coast, an unexpectedly talented culinary artist.