‘First of State’

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Promises are made to be broken, they say. But for you, nothing could be further from the truth.

You take your word seriously. If you say you’ll do something, you’ll do it no matter how hard it gets or how long it takes. A promise made is a guarantee.

When CJ Floyd made a silent commitment to the memory of a friend, he never knew it would take him years to fulfill the vow. In the new book “First of State” by Robert Greer, fulfillment almost cost CJ his life.

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Fresh home from Vietnam, Calvin Jefferson “CJ” Floyd was desperately trying to put his life together. He’d seen too much overseas, things he needed to forget. Now, wandering, thinking, wondering if he’d ever feel normal again, CJ stumbled into GI Joe’s, a local Denver pawnshop and former haunt.

Recognizing the stricken look on his new customer’s face, Wiley Ames stood behind the counter, understanding. A veteran himself, Ames took an instant liking to the tall, dark-skinned young man with the close-cropped afro. Within days, he trusted CJ, knowing that he would appreciate the value of old treasures. Before Vietnam, CJ had been a collector himself.

But the friendship was short-lived. On a chilly morning in the alley behind the pawnshop, Ames and a mysterious Chinese man were gunned down by a sniper. People claimed that Ames was fencing stolen goods but to CJ, it didn’t matter. Ames was a friend, and his murder needed solving.

Over the years, as he slowly took over his Uncle Ike’s bail bondsman business, CJ never forgot. He leaned on Ike’s knowledge of Denver’s criminal world, and he relied on friends to help him get by. He even solved a couple murders as a favor to friends of Ike’s. But he never forgot about Ames.

Seven years after Ames’ murder, CJ was still trying to live up to his promise. Ames’ only heir, a woman up in Sterling, was in no hurry to have the murder solved. The police closed the case and even Ike was telling CJ to move on. But something stuck in the back of CJ’s mind: was Ames really killed over a few small collectibles?

Looking for a big, action-packed detective story? Not with this book. Author Robert Greer’s latest novel is softer, with tones of Western in it, and fans of his are going to love this new peek at an old friend.

As a “prequel” to the CJ Floyd series, this book takes readers back to a time when CJ was not sure what he wanted to do with his life, and Greer does a great job evoking the unsure, shaky 1970s and the innocence of the times. This is a homey, gentler novel than most, and I liked that.

If you’re looking for a whodunit that won’t ruin the surprise with too many clues, try this. If you want a mystery with Western flair, grab this. If you’ve never read the Floyd books, start here. For y’all, “First of State” holds much promise.

(“First of State” by Robert Greer, c.2010, North Atlantic Books, $24.95/$27.95 Canada, 400 pages.)

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