‘First of State’ brings sleuth CJ Floyd to life

Posted Nov. 07, 2010, at 6:34 p.m.

FIRST OF STATE by Robert Greer 2010, North Atlantic Books $24.95/$27.95 Canada, 400 pages.

Promises are made to be broken, they say. But for you, nothing could be further from the truth.

You take your word seriously. If you say you’ll do something, you’ll do it no matter how hard it gets or how long it takes. A promise made is a guarantee.

When CJ Floyd made a silent commitment to the memory of a friend, he never knew it would take him years to fulfill the vow. In the new book “First of State” by Robert Greer, fulfillment almost costs CJ his life.

Fresh home from Vietnam, Calvin Jefferson “CJ” Floyd is desperately trying to put his life together. He has seen too much overseas, things he needed to forget. Now, wandering, thinking, wondering if he would ever feel normal again, CJ stumbles into GI Joe’s, a local Denver pawnshop and former haunt.

Recognizing the stricken look on his new customer’s face, Wiley Ames stands behind the counter, understanding. A veteran himself, Ames takes an instant liking to the tall, dark-skinned young man with the close-cropped Afro. Within days, he trusts CJ, knowing that he will appreciate the value of old treasures. Before Vietnam, CJ had been a collector himself.

But the friendship is short-lived. On a chilly morning in the alley behind the pawnshop, Wiley Ames and a mysterious Chinese man are gunned down by a sniper. People claim that Ames was fencing stolen goods but to CJ, it doesn’t matter. Ames was a friend, and his murder needs solving.

Over the years, as he slowly takes over his Uncle Ike’s bail bondsman business, CJ never forgets. He leans on Ike’s knowledge of Denver’s criminal world. He relies on friends to help him get by. He even solves a couple of murders as a favor to friends of Ike’s. But he never forgets about Wiley Ames.

Seven years after Ames’ murder, CJ is still trying to live up to his promise. Ames’ only heir, a woman up in Sterling, is in no hurry to have the murder solved. The police close the case and even Ike is telling CJ to move on. But something sticks in the back of CJ’s mind: Was Ames really killed over a few small collectibles?

Looking for a big, action-packed detective story? Not with this book. Author Robert Greer’s latest novel is softer, with tones of Western in it, and fans of his are going to love this new peek at an old friend.

As a prequel to the CJ Floyd series, this book takes readers back to a time when CJ was not sure what he wanted to do with his life, and Greer does a great job evoking the unsure, shaky 1970s and the innocence of the times. This is a homey, gentler novel than most, and I liked that.

If you’re looking for a whodunit that won’t ruin the surprise with too many clues, try this. If you want a mystery with Western flair, grab this. If you’ve never read the Floyd books, start here. “First of State” holds much promise.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.

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