Penance / Greed by Dan O’Shea

Chris HolmI came to read Dan O’Shea’s first two Detective Lynch novels in a roundabout, backward way, as did a lot of people who’ve been longtime fans of Dan’s work. You see, the second book in the series, Greed, was actually “published” first. As Dan explains more fully in his recent guest post, the book, originally called The Gravity of Mammon, was written and shared as a sort of online exercise on Dan’s part.

Then the whole voodoo process that is queries and submissions and publishers and contracts unfolded in its mysterious way and, voilà, the first Detective Lynch thriller was now a book called Penance and Mammon had become Greed. However it all came to pass, they are both kick-ass reads.

Penance is truly a marvel of plotting, in which O’Shea weaves together two parallel stories which take place over 40 years apart in Chicago. Our contemporary guide, Detective John Lynch, is second generation law enforcement, his father having been killed in the line of duty when Lynch was still young.

At the story’s outset, Lynch is drawn into the puzzling case of an elderly woman who was gunned down from long range by a sniper as she left church. Hardly the type of victim one would expect to find on the end of a world-caliber shot, it soon becomes apparent there is something much more complex at work. As it turns out, the sniper is a member of an off-the-books government black ops agency, and he’s gone a bit rogue.

As the story unfolds, it becomes a race to see whether the fellow members of his unit will catch up with him before Lynch does. Along the way, O’Shea masterfully pieces together how the sniper’s misguided “mission” both ties together Lynch’s current case and several high-profile killings that occurred in the city over 40 years earlier…all of which threatens to reveal some delicate and potentially embarrassing government secrets should the sniper get caught.

And for all the fantastic characterization that abounds in Penance, the city of Chicago itself is as much a character as any human. O’Shea’s descriptions of the city and its infamous political machinations and backroom dealings are nothing short of sublime, especially when he brings the unrest of the late 60s and early 70s to life. Quite simply, Penance is a lush, atmospheric, straight-up (don’t confuse that for “simple”), old fashioned detective story, the likes of which seem to be in short supply these days. Fortunately, O’Shea seems poised to provide readers with continuing infusions of Lynch and the Windy City.

Greed by Dan O'SheaGreed, the second book featuring Detective Lynch, was released in late December of 2013. Greed isn’t a sequel per se so much as a book that just happens to have some of the same characters. In fact, the character of Nick Hardin arguably takes center stage as much as Detective Lynch does in this outing.

With 8 years in the Marines, including two tours in Gulf War I, and 10 years with the French Foreign Legion under his belt, Hardin is a genuine badass. Unfortunately, even badasses have a sell-by date, and Hardin is fast approaching his. Taking advantage of his current position as a “fixer” — someone who escorts foreign journalists into conflict areas, making sure they and their gear get in and out safely — in Africa, Hardin helps himself to a shipment of conflict diamonds and heads back to Chicago to make a quick sale.

Thing is, that shipment he stole? Yeah, well, turns out everyone from Hezbollah to Al-Qaeda to Mossad to a notorious Mexican drug lord to the local arm of the Italian Mafia to that pesky Detective Lynch and his partner end up on Hardin’s ass. Oh, and that same shadowy black ops agency from Penance rears its head again for good measure, though this time their concern is of a more potentially serious nature than a single rogue operative.

Again Lynch finds himself initially drawn into events by a single murder that seems unusually puzzling in its lack of motive. Once Lynch starts tugging at strings, however, the bodies begin piling up and O’Shea unravels for readers an amazingly intriguing and complex series of events that will leave you in awe of how it all comes together. In lesser hands, the ambitious scale of Greed could have been bloated and unwieldy, but O’Shea never makes a false step or misses a beat—the tone and attitude of each player is pitch-perfect, the action both intense and believable, and every character, big or small, reeks of authenticity.

As I noted when I first read this book in its incarnation as The Gravity of Mammon, Greed is a thriller of the highest order, and you will be making a grave mistake if you don’t read this adrenaline-fueled adventure.

Both Penance (ISBN: 978-1909223134) and Greed (ISBN: 978-1909223158) are available from Exhibit A Books.

Penance / Greed claimed a spot on my Top 10 Reads of 2013 —

Dan O’Shea is a Chicago-area crime writer represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His first two thrillers, Penance and Greed, are available from Exhibit A. Drawing on Chicago’s settings and history, the novels explore the city’s history of corruption, but with a national, even international flavor. Dan is also the author of Old School, a collection of short fiction published by Snubnose Press. You can find out more about Dan at his blog, Going Ballistic.
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