Exit .45 by Ben Sanders – 2022

Marshall Grade is living in New York, passing his time solving really hard Jackson Pollock jigsaw puzzles, when an old buddy from his Brooklyn South, NYPD days, Ray Vialoux, asks to meet him. Ray is deep in gambling debt, and his family are being threatened. Grade knows “Data has a gravity. There’d be a point where he’d learned too much, and couldn’t just walk away from the problem.”

Grade doesn’t get a chance to walk away before Vialoux is lying dead at his feet, shot through the window of the Italian restaurant where they had met. The cop assigned to the shooting, Detective Floyd Nevins, warns Grade that he’s got his pronouns mixed up – it’s not “I’m” or “we’re” responsible for finding out why Vialoux was shot – “Here’s a radical idea. Why don’t you leave me to do my job?” But Grade disagrees and starts to investigate. Although it’s true he does seem to get his pronouns confused – a “him” he tracks down ends up being a “her”, adding another layer of interest to the mystery.

Jordan Mora is from Aotearoa, an ex-PI who has worked with Vialoux. Mora, like Grade, knows that if a guy owes you money, you’re never going to get it if he’s dead – there is more behind the shooting than a gambling debt. Grade is attracted to Mora, and he also has a history with Hannah, Vialoux’s wife. His personal relationships make the case difficult to navigate, as he struggles to see “the divide between the pertinent and the personal.”

It is Grade’s specific take on the case that makes Exit .45 such a good read. We know he has OCD from previous novels, and his condition has heightened to engineering-level geometry. He is crystal clear about what’s happened and his role in it: “… the story is about me, isn’t it? I was right there at the beginning.” He is confused when others seem to put other considerations first: “Vialoux’s dead. I mentioned that, right?” Another source of puzzlement is the people he bumps into who have asked others to do jobs, but who feel disconnected from the consequences.  

Grade has an unusual view of justice, for him it’s not one-size-fits-all, it’s case-by-case, and he has no problem administering it when required: “He was wired for unilateralism, single-mindedness.” Any progress on the case seems to unearth more mysteries, and it isn’t long before he has triggered the interest of Deputy Inspector Loretta Flynn of the NYPD. He is sort of helping the police yet sort of their prime suspect: “But it was a strange experience to be standing here, moving easily through small talk and all the while knowing that a SWAT team might kick down his door.”

In the frame for being connected to Vialoux’s murder are a drug lord with a missing wife and an Italian mob boss. And closer to home there are pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite fit. Is Hannah’s daughter Emma acting suspiciously or just being a teenager? Is the grieving couple who witnessed a suspect for the murder what they seem? Their daughter, Emma’s friend, has committed suicide, and Vialoux was looking into bullying as a possible reason.

Exit .45 – a way out of New York or a wound from a bulletis a great read with clues scattered throughout and engaging characters. I thought the end was too abrupt until the ramifications sank in – the pieces keep falling into place after you finish reading. And there is Sanders’ lovely noirish prose: “he thought he could bend the bars of honesty a little, slip through to the other side of the mystery.” #YeahNoir!

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