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Charlesgate Confidential


Charlesgate Confidential

Whatever doubts I had about Scott Von Doviak’s wonderful debut novel disappeared within the first page or so. More often than not, one expects the indispensable Hard Case Crime imprint to feature books written several decades ago that either have never seen the light of day or were published in low print runs and written by masters of the hard-boiled detective craft under pseudonyms. CHARLESGATE CONFIDENTIAL is brand spanking new, but earns its place on the Hard Case Crime shelf --- make that "bookcase" --- with a story that spans 70 years and leaves quite the body count in its wake, giving readers more than their money’s worth.

This is actually three novels under one cover, alternating chapters in an intriguing fashion to start you reading and keep you going. The unifying backdrop is Boston’s Charlesgate building, which begins as a hotel, is transformed into a university dormitory, and eventually becomes an upscale condominium development. The first book is set in June 1946, at a time when the once-fashionable hotel provides low-class housing and even lower class activities, including a regular off-the-books poker game. A robbery of the stakes leads to a caper --- an art gallery heist involving several priceless paintings --- that, while initially successful, sets off a series of unfortunate... well, a number of deaths and double-crosses that echo and resonate forward in time.

"Von Doviak captures perfectly the dialogue, mood and mores of each of the eras that comprise his tale."

The second tale involves Thomas Donnelly, a journalism student at Boston’s Emerson College who is residing in the Charlesgate dormitory in October 1986. Donnelly is given an assignment by the editor of the college newspaper to write a series of articles about the building, and the myths and legends that surround it. His meticulous researching and interviewing spark a new interest in a mysterious heist that took place 40 years ago.

The third story, set in 2012, kicks off when a real estate agent for the company managing the Charlesgate and its totally remodeled suites is brutally murdered. Martin Coleman, the tough but unhappy Boston detective who is investigating the murder, gets caught up in the building’s history and its part in an art heist that occurred seven decades earlier. The paintings were never recovered, and the reward for their return still stands. Coleman wonders if there is a chance that he can somehow find the paintings and collect the reward while working on his day job. He decides to give it a shot, and is aided in his quest by a fetching resident of the building who lived there some 30 years before when it was a college dormitory. Things come to a head during a class reunion, when the past and the present collide and more than one mystery is solved, even as another remains for the ages.

Von Doviak captures perfectly the dialogue, mood and mores of each of the eras that comprise his tale. There is also a fine bit of symmetry at the end on a number of levels, providing a perfect conclusion to a caper that never overstays its welcome. And, whatever else you do, don’t skip Von Doviak’s Afterword, which provides readers with the real-world basis for what has been presented between the covers of this excellent debut. He ends his book with an ask. Please do it. I just did.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 28, 2018

Charlesgate Confidential
by Scott Von Doviak