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Attorney Gregory utilizes a legal background to create a complex and suspenseful slice of hard-boiled noir that honors without imitating the stylistic and thematic influences of Dashiell Hammett. Eschewing over-simplistic views of morality, the characters here wade through a dark ambiguity mirrored by bleak atmosphere, descending into homicide and emotional bankruptcy. In Birmingham, Ala., Slate, the cynical but decent lawyer-investigator struggling with the deaths of his wife and son, agrees to locate attorney Don Kramer’s daughter, Kristina, unwittingly accepting an invitation into conspiracy and cover-ups. When a murdered man is discovered with Slate’s business card, police captain Leon Grubbs casts an eye on our hard-luck hero and a routine missing person’s case becomes a race against the clock and possibly the New Orleans mob. Slate is not a mere parody of classic genre detectives. Rather, his personality is convincing and complex, skillfully revealed without slowing the action-driven plot. Clean and sharp prose delivers maximum emotional effect, and the dialogue rings true. Though he doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre, Slate is nevertheless destined to become a series character welcomed by aficionados of John D. MacDonald and Raymond Chandler.