J.L. Abramo is the author of the Jake Diamond private investigator series set in San Francisco. The series is told in the first person and although Diamond is hard bitten and prone to many of the compulsions of his fellow detectives the series is told in good humor and with an interesting style. Not only is the series held together by a strong main character but the vast network of friends and allies help to keep the books fresh and interesting.
J.L. Abramo is originally from Brooklyn and has a BA in Sociology and a Masters in Social Psychology. He has introduced the public to Jake Diamond, a San Francisco-based private investigator and has then progressively become more and more hardboiled.
The Jake Diamond Series
The Jake Diamond series begins with Catching Water In A Net (2001) and starts by giving us the news that Diamond's mentor and the man he has always looked up to, Jimmy Pigeon, has been murdered. It's news that hits him hard but the news is also the start of his next case, which happens to be to find the man who has been accused of Pigeon's murder.
Moved by the news of Pigeon’s death he hustles to Los Angeles where the array of suspects and further victims come and go in a rush. Diamond doesn’t so much investigate as let events unfold and pick up hints as they cruise by.
He is also ably assisted by Joey Russo, a former client and invaluable source of muscle and other underworld resources.
The story moves quickly and it is filled with characters that are interesting enough to want to find out more – which is a good thing for the first book in a series.
Clutching At Straws (2003) begins with the apparent straightforward burglary of Judge Chancellor’s home by practiced second-storey specialist Lefty Wright. The widely hated judge lying dead on his bedroom floor and the sudden appearance of the police screams set up.
Jake Diamond is brought into the case by Wright to protest his innocence and the case moves quickly into something far more complicated as the body count rapidly stars to rise.
As a second book in the series, Clutching At Straws works very well with characters such as Darlene, Jake’s secretary and Vinnie “Strings”, Jake’s overly eager friend with a romantic and unrealistic notion of investigative work both developed more fully.
The style is very reminiscent of the hardboiled detective stories of the Chandler era and has been nicely integrated into the modern-day society. Jake continues to develop as a skilled investigator who has an impressive selection of friends in reasonably high places to call in when help is needed.
We settle into the familiar pace and gritty style in Counting To Infinity (2004). This third book in the series thrusts Diamond into the middle of a mob-based request to look for a couple of men. It’s a request that is impossible to refuse given the people who are likely die if he doesn’t produce results.
Once again the cast of supporting characters such as his ever-dependable secretary Darlene, the endlessly resourceful Joey Russo and enthusiastic Vinnie “Strings” Stradivarius help to ensure the plot moves along at good speed.
More of the same is a good thing in this case and the Jake Diamond series is further enhanced by book number 3.
After an 11 year break, the 4th book in the series, Circling the Runway (2015), was released and won Abramo the Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original in 2015.
This fourth instalment of the series is high quality that combines the usual suspects that have appeared in the series so far and added another great murder/crime spin to it. The murder of an assistant district attorney sets the scene for a very delicate investigation and Jake is called in to conduct it.
The interval between Jake Diamond books was an extended one but the wait is worthwhile and fans of the series who enjoyed the first three books will appreciate the direction it is taken.
Prequel to the Jake Diamond Series
One of the big regrets I felt when reading Catching Water In a net, the first of the Jake Diamond series was the fact that Jimmy Pigeon had been murdered. Pigeon was both mentor and guide to Diamond and during the course of the book it became clear he was a hell of an investigator and extremely interesting character.
Clearly I wasn't the only one who wanted to know more and fortunately, Abramo agreed and wrote Chasing Charlie Chan (2013) which is a prequel to the Jake Diamond series and features Jimmy Pigeon. Not only do we get to know the P.I. but we are also treated to a solid hardboiled detective novel that is intense and fast-paced.
Introducing Nick Travers
In 2016 a new private investigator is introduced to the Abramo fans and this time he is based in New York. Brooklyn Justice is a tough and gritty story that takes the reader deep into the mire that is filled with danger and unknown evil.
The book has been put together from a novella and five short stories to form a complete picture. Essentially, Nick Ventura works on six cases over a ten month period and these stories follow his work over that time.
Ventura is tough and bound to the law by his own code of conduct. He gets the job done in ways that is completely different to those employed by Jake Diamond but no less effective so the fans who have become used to the humor and techniques of Diamond are going to find someone a little more serious but still well worth reading.
Samson and Murphy
The novel Gravesend (2012) is set in Brooklyn and features police detectives from Brooklyn’s 61st Precinct as they are faced with the murders of two young boys. The case is worked by three principal detectives, Samson, Vota and Murphy and they each follow a line of enquiry connected to the deaths.
The story takes the reader across the paths of a broad range of characters who all have some type of input into the case. It is a well written and nicely put together story that is taut and finely coupled. It is fast paced and is just as much about the lives of the people characterized within as it is a desperate thriller.
In 2017 a sequel to Gravesend has been released. The novel is titled Coney Island Avenue and reintroduces the reader to detectives Samson and Murphy along with the other men and women who work at the 61st Precinct.