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Damnation Street: A Weiss and Bishop Mystery    by Andrew Klavan order for
Damnation Street
by Andrew Klavan
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Meet Scott Weiss, Jim Bishop, Julie Wyant, and the Shadowman. These are the principal characters in Andrew Klavan's tenth novel, Damnation Street.

First: Scott Weiss, the owner and principal detective of the Weiss Agency in San Francisco, is a big man with a paunch, 'a sad, ugly face,' a bulbous nose and sagging cheeks, unkempt salt-and-pepper hair, and 'a knack for reading people.' In his fifties, Weiss had a long career with the San Francisco Police Department before going into business on his own. Now he tries to live a somewhat simple life in which Macallan scotch whiskey remains one of his principal pleasures.

Second: Jim Bishop, having worked in the troubled past with his estranged friend Weiss, is a tall, well-built, 'adrenaline junky' who stands out among others principally because of his sardonic smile and his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. As a self-described 'cold-hearted bastard,' who recently survived a murderous relationship, the former military Black Ops specialist, has recently been especially fond of hanging out in bars. When he gets himself involved in a violent incident in a jail cell, Bishop finds himself briefly 'shaking hands with the devil,' which will fortuitously lead him to crucial information that might help him save Weiss's life.

Third: Julie Wyant, a San Francisco prostitute with a shadowy background, has recently had a run-in with a violent man who now obsesses over her. Anxious to avoid further problems with the man known as the Shadowman, Julie is on the run.

Fourth: The Shadowman - calling himself John Foy when he is willing to be acknowledged by the world round him - has 'a gift for moving through the world unseen,' which is a useful ability for a professional killer. In fact, 'murder had been good to the Shadowman. He's made millions at it over the years.' His prey seldom, if ever, escapes.

The complicated convergence of these four characters is the heart-and-soul of Damnation Street. You see, for reasons best left unexplained at this point, the Shadowman has been pursuing Weiss for a long time. Now the Shadowman is pursuing Julie. And again for reasons best left unexplained at this point, Weiss is also pursuing Julie. So, in a deadly and fast-paced cat-and-mouse game, Julie Wyant - if that really is her name - leads the detective and the professional killer on a not-so-merry chase all over California and Nevada, and the dangerous trail ultimately takes everyone - including Jim Bishop and the occasional narrator (the author) - to the explosive and murderous climax at the House of Dreams, a brothel on Damnation Street in beautiful, downtown Union City, Nevada.

And so it goes in Damnation Street. This most recent Andrew Klavan novel is an intriguing tale of blackmail, secrecy, and murder in which the lives of families, friends, co-workers, enemies, and cold-blooded killers intersect in the most surprising ways. By employing something like a meta-fiction fusion of third-person and first-person narration, which might be initially confusing to readers, the Edgar award winning author Klavan is successful in his technique of conflating fiction (which is actually a creative nonfiction rendering of Weiss's and Bishop's pulse-pounding adventures) and nonfiction (which is actually something like a memoir - with poetic license - in which Klavan recalls his experiences as a non-detective employee at a San Francisco agency). As elsewhere noted, the hardboiled Damnation Street features a 'gripping plot and engrossing characters' as well as 'darkness, light, horror, and humor,' which are 'all fused into a relentless tale of suspense.' I agree!

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