Rob Steiner’s Aspect of Pale Night is a character-driven light thriller told from the first person perspective of Toni Dzielny. Ms. Dzielny is a single, 29-year-old recently unemployed techie who lives in Hamtramck, Michigan, a hardscrabble suburb of Detroit. Unlucky in love as well as employment, Toni views her lay-off as a sign that she should pursue what she determines to be her real calling – print journalism.
However, Toni’s effort to get a job as a reporter with the Detroit Free Press is stalled when she gets a call late one night from Leo, an ex-boyfriend and fellow techie, who she has not seen in five years. He says that he has something important to tell her – a really big story that could get her that dream job – and will be right over to her place.
Needless to say, Leo does not show up, but the local cops appear at her door early the next morning, tell her that Leo has been found murdered in a rough section of nearby Detroit in what they speculate was a drug buy gone bad, and that they found the directions to her residence on his person.
Shortly thereafter, Toni gets a package in the mail from Leo that contains an encrypted computer disc she can not decipher, and her apartment is burglarized by individuals who ignore the cash and jewelry and only take all the used computer discs they can find. Toni does not initially put the two together.
This does, however, start Toni off on her quest as she and her techie friends try to unravel the mystery of who killed Leo, and why. The story is generally well written, with only a smattering of typographical errors. There are enough introduced suspects to keep the reader guessing, and Toni is a likeable and engaging main character. But what I admired most about the novel was Steiner’s willingness to take a risk and switch gender-perspective in a first person account. Reading a novel in which that has been done always leaves me with a sort of constant heart-in-throat sensation as I await the inevitable gender faux pas. But Steiner pulls it off as well as anyone I’ve read in a long time, including many established writers, and for that I give him credit.
My sideline criticisms of the novel are purely plot-based. I think that Steiner missed an opportunity in not developing Toni as a suspect that the local police focused on. Doing so would have not only added a needed level of angst to the plot, but would have also provided the required rationale for why Toni doesn’t, at numerous points along the way, simply called the cops to tell them what was going on and to turn the case over to them. Isolation of the main character from conventional law enforcement assistance is a necessary plot convention in thrillers whenever there is a lay protagonist. Without it I kept asking myself, “Why doesn’t Toni now just tell the Heat what she knows?”
But hey, that’s my perspective. All in all, it was an enjoyable read.
Title: Aspect of Pale Night
Author: Rob Steiner
Publication: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 21, 2011)
Price: $6.99 (Kindle, Nook), $10.79 (paperback)
Author’s Website: http://robsteiner.quarkfolio.com/