Untold Damage is the debut novel of Robert K. Lewis and is the first in a planned series.
Lewis's protagonist is Mark Mallen - an ex undercover cop. His job was to infiltrate the drug trade in San Fran. Problem was, he was a little too good at blending in.....he was turfed from the force and has been living in a heroin haze for the last four years.
But, when his friend Eric Russ from his rookie days on the force is found dead with Mallen's name in his pocket, old instincts are reawakened. Determined to beat the needle and find out what happened to his friend, Mark starts investigating on his own.
Lewis is setting the scene for his series in Untold Damage. Much of the story focuses on Mallen's past, his path to his current station and his struggle to remain clean. Although, I do question the portrayal of an addict who thinks he can drink with no problems. Perhaps this will be fodder for future books.
Mark is a good lead character. I liked him and was rooting for him, both in his personal struggle and in his determined search for his friend's killer. I will be interested to see where Lewis takes him in the next book - Critical Damage, due out in April 2014.
Lewis has done a great job setting the scene in the underbelly of San Francisco with lots of dark, gritty descriptions. The Cornerstone Bar is particularly bleak.
Lewis is obviously a fan of crime fiction and he has incorporated all the right elements for a good mystery/detective tale. But some of them seemed formulaic and in need of some polishing.
For example - Mallen meets up with Gato while he's detoxing in jail. This chance meeting leads to a friendship where Gato is willing to 'take care' of things for Mark and supply him with guns. I just never bought this instantaneous friendship. At one point Mallen compares Gato and himself to Spenser and Hawk. (Robert Parker's iconic characters) "He told Gato where he was and Gato told him he was on his way. He sat there for a moment, feel a little like Spenser for Hire, and Gato was steadily turning into his Hawk." Gato seems to appear when a gun or a ride is needed and although his own family troubles are hinted at he never really achieves the depth needed to carry off the sidekick role. This relationship seems very convenient and one sided, but may change in the next book.
The character of cop Oberon Kane is better fleshed out - I think we'll see more of him in future books. The bartender at the Cornerstone has possibilities as well. Other references to Starsky and Hutch (1975), Serpico (1973) tend to date the author and may be missed by younger readers.
"Being undercover was everything he'd ever thought it would be: exciting, dangerous as f***, and way cool. It was like being Serpico, and he had to admit...he loved it."
I found some of the syntax, language and pacing used to be a bit awkward and stilted. I did read from an advance reader's copy, so some of this may have been corrected in the final cut.
Bottom line - Untold Damage was a solid debut and a good intro to a character I think has a future - as does Lewis.
"Robert K. Lewis (Bay Area, CA) has been a painter, print maker, and a
produced screenwriter. He lives with his wife, his guitars, and a trio of moody
ghosts. Untold Damage is his first novel." You can find Robert on Facebook, on Twitter and at his blog.
See what others on the TLC book tour thought - full schedule can be found here.