The weekend was all set. Detective Heath Barrington had everything planned down to the last detail: He and police officer Alan Keyes were heading to a cabin in Northern Wisconsin, just the two of them, under the guise of a “fishing trip.” It was 1947, after all, and discretion was absolutely necessary for two professional gay men, but the getaway would be a great chance to see where their new relationship was going.
Still, despite their carefulness, rumors could come from anywhere, which was why Barrington was worried when his boss called him in early one day. Fortunately, the chief didn’t want to quiz Barrington on his love life; he wanted to send the detective on a special assignment.
Milwaukee law enforcement had been following Gregor Slavinsky ever since the small-time hood got out of prison, assuming that he’d screw up eventually. And that’s exactly what happened: Word on the street was that Slavinsky recently borrowed $25,000 from Benny Ballentine, a bigger crook and the guy the department really wanted to nab. Both were booked on a Lake Michigan excursion, and something was afoot. The chief needed Barrington to find out more.
The “fishing trip” cancelled, Barrington boarded a small luxury boat for a weekend tour. With few fellow travelers — two known hoodlums, a henchman, a man and his elderly aunt — he thought he’d have no trouble keeping an eye on everyone, especially since the boat’s steward was an undercover cop too. But when a scuffle, a splash, and a missing crook proved otherwise, Barrington knew his assignment had suddenly changed. Slavinsky was nobody’s favorite guy… but who among the handful of possible suspects had the most reason to kill him?
Every cliché ever packed in a noir novel — every single one — seems to be baked inside Death Goes Overboard: You’ve got mobsters, a fedora-wearing detective in a pinstriped suit, seemingly-prim matrons, man-hungry blondes eager for marriage. It’s like an old black-and-white movie in book form. But you won’t mind, because author David S. Pederson has packed a lot of else in this novel. You don’t normally find a soft-sided, poetry-writing mobster in a noir mystery, for instance, but he’s here. And there’s the sweetly chaste, budding romance between two men; not so unusual, again, except that one of them is considering something drastic in order to hide his secret, a side-plot that’s historically accurate, and that fits.
So this novel is both predictable and not, making it a nice diversion for a weekend or vacation. If that’s the kind of book you enjoy, then Death Goes Overboard will make you buoyant.
— Terri Schlichenmeyer
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 19, 2017.