The Second Letter, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 330 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.
This is hefty, solid, tough guy mystery writing. A character named Jake Travis is screaming for comparison with Hemingway’s world-weary Jake Barnes, Paul Levine’s Jake Lassiter, and of course, John D. McDonald’s iconoclastic protagonist Travis McGee. Mr. Lane’s invention holds up well while carrying its own distinctiveness. Too smart and too mouthy for his own good, Jake Travis lives in a moral twilight that threatens to plunge him into total darkness.
Mr. Lane blends a noir outlook with posh settings.
Jake, a retired Special Forces operative, performs contract work for his former boss. His partner on such missions is a man named Garrett. They are tasked with working out the terms of a possibly compromising letter being turned over to the U. S. Government. The man who has the letter, Raydel Escobar, would like to exchange it for his IRS debt of seven million dollars.
Escobar lives an elegant life from the proceeds of his (largely stolen) carpet and rug business and the three gentleman’s clubs (better known as “skin clubs”) he runs in Tampa. He has a gorgeous wife, a gorgeous home, and a position in the food chain of illegal enterprises that puts him under associates far more powerful and ruthlessly lethal than he is.
Mr. Lane has structured the novel to rock back and forth between Jake’s perspective and Escobar’s, a device that is highly serviceable in raising suspense and deepening reader interest.
The letter goes back to 1961 and is thought to be connected to the Bay of Pigs fiasco. It had been in the possession of Dorothy Harrison, who lived on Long Key off St. Petersburg, Florida. Her late husband’s friend and colleague, Ted Sullivan, delivered it to her several months after Jim Harrison’s death in a CIA plane crash. Dorothy chose not to read it and asked her Cuban gardener, Angelo, to hide it. After her own death decades later, her home became a museum. Now Escobar has somehow come across the letter and the government wants it. Why is it so valuable?
Well, let’s just say it’s from Allen Dulles (CIA director) to Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. And it’s not the only letter in the envelope.
As Jake, Garrett, and Jake’s neighbor Morgan scout out Escobar’s estate and plan to make their move, readers get to enjoy Mr. Lane’s masterful handling of the Southwest Florida setting. They also get to feed their gluttony for descriptions of weaponry, elite boats, and special covert operations. Well, covert up to a point. In these various areas of thriller interest, Randy Wayne White now has a rival. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 9, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 10 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Naples, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Lane.