Thursday, June 2, 2011

A review of "Purgatory Chasm" [36]

Purgatory Chasm: A Mystery by Steve Ulfelder
Minotaur, ISBN 978-0312672928
May 10, 2011, 304 pages

“Tander Phigg was an asshole, but he was also a Barnburner. Barnburners saved my life. I help them when I can. No exceptions.”
Conway Sax isn't a cop or a private eye. No, he is an out of work auto mechanic, an ex-con and an ex-drunk, who is willing and able to help out any of his friends that need a bit of his sort of help. Someone doing someone wrong? He might have a talk with them..maybe a bit more if necessary. Now, he would not really consider Phigg a friend, but like Sax, he is a member of their renegade AA group, named the Barnburners for the unfortunate state that they left one of their former meeting places, a barn, in. And when a fellow Barnburners needs help, Sax is willing to step up.

And it does not seemed that big of a problem really. Phigg left his vintage Mercedes with a rather shady restoration shop and now they won't give it back to him. Sax will talk to them, get the car back and it will be done. But of course things can't be that simple. Nothing ever is for Sax it seems. The first time he goes there to talk to them, he ends up with four slashed tires on his truck. The second time, he ends up beaten unconscious and dumped next to a dumpster. Not that Sax is giving up! But then Phigg ends up dead, and Sax is looking like a pretty good suspect and things really start to get complicated.

Why was Phigg, the heir to a wealthy, local family, living in a shack and picking up recycling for cash? What is going on in that garage and what is so special about that Mercedes? What happen to Phigg in NYC decades ago in the 60's that may be tied into his death, and is it just a huge coincident that his long lost son Trey happens to show up back in town the very day his dad is killed?

That description of Sax can give you the wrong idea. Yes, he was in prison for killing a man, and yes, he is a tough guy and yes, he was a drunk...but he is really a nice guy, even a sensitive guy. He is trying to work things out with his girlfriend, even if he doesn't always succeed, due to some severe commitment issues. He and his father have a terrible history together, his father even more of a drunk than he was, but when his father shows up out of the blue and seems to need help, Sax does everything he can for him...and you'll see how shocking bad that turns out. No good deed goes unpunished.

Sax had a brief career as a NASCAR driver, still likes to drive fast and maybe that is why book is such a fast, fun, wild ride to a fantastic ending I never saw coming. I read the first chapter of this book online and was hook from the start. Sax is a great character, supported by a great cast, the good, the bad and the ugly, and don't be too sure you know which is which. While this is Ulfelder's debut, I certainly hope it is not the last we will see of Sax and his friends. This could be the start of a very entertaining series.


  1. This sounds like a perfect summer beach choice. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. Sax sounds like quite a character! This sounds like a book I would love.


please speak up, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!