Have Pen, Will Travel

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A Real Piece of Work

By Chris Orcutt

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Action, lust, danger, style and witty repartee, Orcutt’s "A Real Piece of Work" is a work of art.

Dakota Stevens is an ex FBI man turned PI. During a blizzard, a man named Serif shows up at his office and collapses. Serif tells Stevens and his assistant Svetlana Krüsh that he wants to recover a painting that was stolen from his home. He pays cash. Stevens and his assistant leave the man to recuperate while they grab a bite to eat at the local diner. On the way home, they are almost run over by an SUV and when they get back to the office, the man is gone. Now they have to recover a painting and their client; but as they uncover the clues, Stevens and Krüsh discover that there is much more to the whole case than meets the eye.

Stevens is a PI with characteristic elements of charm, compassion, skill, strategy, masculine needs and feminine sensitivity. There’s nothing more important than solving a case and catching a criminal – except perhaps coming up with the perfect, witty comebacks:

““So, Mr. Stevens, do you drop the case, or do we kill the woman?”

“No deal.”

He hung up before I could think of a better curtain line.”


“He took the S&W automatic off my hip and the stun gun from my pocket.

“Any chance of a receipt for those?” I said.”

Orcutt captures Stevens’ characteristic style of cool and seamlessly maintains his narrative voice throughout the novel, revealing a sharp, dry sense of humor in his descriptions: describing his assistant Svetlana: “I used my skills of observation to ascertain a nude lace bra and a lick of cleavage.” And, “She sat up tall in the chair. That good old Soviet System. Must have beaten them with rulers to get posture like that.”

Orcutt’s plot is strong, winding and twisting to keep the reader wondering who did what to whom. His observations are precise and his evaluations are uniquely picturesque: “The use of visual accessing cues had its merits. In Serif’s case his eyes kept moving to his right. Since he was right-handed this meant he was using the creative side of his brain to construct elements in his story.” And, “Shay was no Martha Stewart. To get her bathroom, start with a prison john, then subtract.” Also, “This case was a tentacled beast, and my job was to put it back in its cage. But every time I thought I had it contained, another damn tentacle flapped out and mocked me.”

What is possibly even better than the depiction of Stevens’ character is that of his assistant: the delectable, sassy, super-intelligent and resourceful Ukranian-American, Svetlana Krüsh, who has also authored a chess book called “Krüsh Your Opponents.”  And, it appears that her brains can be matched only by her beauty and self-confidence. Krüsh’s own intelligence, knowledge and the dynamics between the two characters keep Stevens from looking too powerful or perfect:

““Nadir?”  I handed the card to Svetlana. “Who names their kids Nadir?”

“Yes, Dakota is so much better.””

And in another conversation with Svetlana in which she tells Stevens about the weather:

““Anyone ever tell you you’d make a sexy weatherwoman? You know, with the accent and all.”


I waited for details, but none came.”

Action, lust, danger, style and witty repartee, Orcutt’s A Real Piece of Work is a work of art.

Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for 2012

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