Losers Live Longer – Russell Atwood

3 out of 5

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From the first page of Losers Live Longer, a Russell Atwood book focusing on his P.I. Payton Sherwood, I knew I was going to enjoy it: Sherwood lets his answering machine pick up a call, the greeting that plays recorded several years back, during what we’re told are happier days; Atwood describes this as an “outgoing outgoing message.” I’m a sucker for clever wordplay, and this got me. I was automatically on the writer’s side.

After about 250 pages, when the mystery of a missing scam artist and the suspicious ‘accidental’ death of a fellow P.I. Payton held in high regard is resolved, I had that final-scene thrill: that moment when it all comes together, and the pieces click satisfyingly. This resolution is delivered via bad guy monologue, though, and that trope-ishness is where the book goes somewhat astray – for every “outgoing outgoing” there’s a forced pun; for all of the inventive clue trailing, there’re also a handful that stick out with ‘don’t look at me!’ obviousness; the attempts to swerve around and include some unnecessary cliches – femme fatales – and then some lampshading meta-ness weigh the flow of the book down somewhat.

The characters and scenarios emerge very strongly, though – we shuffle between a few key settings and people, and Atwood has a way of keeping these fixtures familiar but definitely not boring, making the more fantastic parts of the narrative work because they’re well grounded in a smoothly effected “everyday” normalcy and tone. This overall mixture of highs and lows very much errs toward the former; that initial and final impression are great bookends that are indicative of the lingering vibe throughout – more often than not, Losers Live Longer left me with a smile, and a thrill when a scene of disparate parts would suddenly click into the next clue for Payton.