Savage has another hit with 'Lord of the Rinks'

Mike Savage has been at this a while now and keeps getting better. His fourth Dave Davecki novel hit stores at the beginning of this month, and everything fans liked about the first three is back.

Mike Savage has been at this a while now and keeps getting better. His fourth Dave Davecki novel hit stores at the beginning of this month, and everything fans liked about the first three is back.

This time, it's about hockey. "Lord of the Rinks" begins with the death of a female hockey star and takes the reader into the underbelly of what some say is the Northland religion.

The case leads Davecki, a Superior detective, from the high society of the area's wealthy to the literal sewer as he chases bad guys through tunnels where "urban spelunkers" -- as well as the lost and lonely -- live in a shadow world few know about. (One of the interesting questions is how much of that shadow world is fact and how much is fiction. I'm not sure myself.)

I think the Davecki books are popular first because they are entertaining, second because they are local, filled with inside references, and third because Savage is a good writer.

All three are more true with "Lord of the Rinks."


"Rinks," still gritty and at times profane but perhaps less so than the previous books, is entertaining in part because of some of the unusual settings Savage takes us to and in part because of the interesting characters. Davecki here continues his process of growth, this time starting to investigate his spiritual life. He's still the conflicted, complicated hero, isolated in the midst of his friends and coworkers. The book also offers real insight into some father-son relationships.

Savage even treats most of his villains sympathetically.

He gives us plenty of action scenes, and the scenes which take us sloshing through black tunnels and the ones which show us lifestyles of the Twin Ports' rich and famous are memorable.

Balancing local references and insider wink-winks to the reader with the demands of a fast-paced novel is a skill Savage has refined to an art. The references are there but unobtrusive -- I probably missed three quarters of them. He also has a keen (and obviously affectionate) grasp of local culture. (You might like the bits about Range dialects, for instance.)

The writing seems to improve every time he hits the press. Savage writes with a savage wit. He can really make you laugh. The book is well-paced and plotted, full of twists and turns. He keeps the pages turning.

Another thing to really admire about his writing is its erudition. Savage has fun playing with expectations about his hardened character, giving him unexpected bits of knowledge.

Finally, I don't know how much of it is accurate, but Savage handles details really well. If you like police-procedural type of stuff, he has come a long way from the days when he wrote a mystery novel with basically one clue.

All this will rightly keep Savage fans -- me among them -- happy.


I did have some disappointments with this book, though. The biggest is the ending. You won't get any spoilers here. As G.K. Chesterton said, the person who gives away the ending of a detective story "is simply a wicked man, as wicked as the man who deliberately breaks a child's soap bubble." But I found too much in "Lord of the Rinks" -- even potential murders -- was left unresolved. There were whole significant subplots that never got resolved, intentionally.

I know this is the way it works in real life, but this isn't real life, it's fiction, and readers, especially mystery readers, deserve to have considerable resolution.

One might almost reconstruct how it happened, although it's just my guess.

A remarkable feature of the book is a sophisticated plot with intricate relationships and many twists. The novel's climax is a powerful, emotional scene that poses intriguing questions for our hero. That dramatic encounter, for reasons I won't reveal, does not leave a lot of room for explanations.

This climactic scene is indispensable, almost inevitable, and I'm sure the author would change just about any other part of the book first -- or anyway, that's how I would feel. And to throw some additional scene in between it and the last bit of the book would have detracted from the impact of Davecki wrestling with the encounter.

But then, how to wrap up so many details?

It's tough, but even if it is partially a matter of setting up readers for a sequel -- let's hope! -- I wish he had found a way to leave a little less mystery in his mystery.

Still, this is a top-shelf effort from Savage that should be gobbled up by Northland readers.

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