Fact #1: My favorite kind of fiction is that which regards a protagonist’s search for identity, meaning, and redemption, in a world in which he or she is hanging from the bottom rung. Fact #2: I don’t know squat about the mystery genre; it just never interested me.
So, some hesitation was about me, in venturing to read the first installment of John Edward White’s new mystery series introducing private investigator Martin Gardens; and making the assumptions that such a genre couldn’t possibly give a fig about the existential questions at the heart of the soul-searching motif, so busy would it be in trying to weave the titillating mystery web. To my delight, my assumption was dead wrong.
The Ralph Waldo Emerson tracks in the snow epigraph that White references several times in his new novel Hard Reset evokes far more than the transparency of a crime. It could equally refer, and I assert that it does, to the bleakness of that most peculiar trait of winter: the wide swath of colorless landscape and implied loneliness. There is a palpable sense of that bleakness in White’s portrayal of a man in desperate need of a reason to get up in the morning, at a crossroads in his life, a man barely holding on by a thread to his sense of stability and purpose. If Martin Gardens’ newfound calling as a private investigator is a lifeline, so are his canine companion, and his knowledge and love of cars; in the latter’s case, a knowledge that’s been raised to an artform to be cultivated, even curated; and in the former’s case, the only living being in Martin Gardens’ life for whom Martin is completely responsible.
It’s a Los Angeles story, as are Raymond Chandler’s and Walter Mosley’s before him, and what’s most appreciated, at least by this Angeleno, is that White doesn’t choose the typical nooks of L.A. that we know of from most books and especially movies on the City of Angels, making no attempt to give a sexiness to L.A.’s seediness, but instead gives us the landscapes as a matter of ugly, sometimes frightening, fact, where real life, and not Hollywood, happens. And that move alone gives the Los Angeles of Hard Reset a compelling allure.
White is a subtle writer, never bending to the obvious, and never underestimating the reader’s ability to read between the lines and suss out the heartbeat of the piece.
That heartbeat, far more than the mystery game itself, is White’s empathetic and nuanced portrait of loneliness and aloneness, of a man whose only true intimate relationship is with his dog, Stray; a man who daily fights off his personal demons, barely keeping them at bay via the fancy footwork and stylish rhetoric of addiction recovery, and is in the very throes – at the point where White has chosen to introduce us to him – of self-discovery and radical reinvention.
The mystery itself, which brings this new professional calling into the ordinary Martin Gardens’ life (mechanic by day) seems almost secondary to the exploration of a gravely flawed human being, damaged by heartbreak, loss and addiction, who lives every day looking for a connection to others beyond Man’s Best Friend and a beaten-up classic roadster.
The mystery in question is plenty intriguing, but for me it’s always about the fascinating soul contained within the armor of struggle, and White gives both amply.
I imagine that the subsequent books in the series, without the need for such character establishment, will be exclusively focused on whatever mystery web each presents. But as for this first in the series, specifically because of such nuanced complexities of character, it completely sucked me in, when I really did dare it to.
John Edward White’s is a relatively new voice in publishing, but it’s quite evident he’s been at this art for a very long time, and has fine-tuned it to a seasoned gift.
Full disclosure: I know John Edward White personally, so it’s probably not possible for me to be entirely objective, except for the fact that our alliance has always been one of ruthless honesty in each of our desires to help the other become a better writer. With each other, when something just doesn’t feel authentic, honest, clear, etc, neither has ever shied away from saying so. So, like I said, I really did dare Hard Reset to pull me in.
And as always:
Create – even if you’re not an artist
Support artists – especially the independents
Live well – doesn’t take money to do it
And be whole
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.