With our noirish atmospherics and active literary community, you’d expect Oregon to be awash in crime novelists. Sadly, despite short, dreary winter days—to say nothing of a boom in homicides—we boast all too few.
One of those—Warren C. Easley, who has flown too long under the radar—makes an appearance at Annie Bloom’s Books on April 24. His new book is Fatal Flaw (Lucasian Press, 352 pages, $18.99), the ninth—and latest—in the Cal Claxton mystery series.
Claxton’s a lawyer who fled Los Angeles and a promising career as a prosecutor after his wife’s suicide. He settled on a nice hillside in Oregon wine country and set up a one-man practice in McMinnville. To help ease his soul, on Fridays he provides pro bono legal services in Portland’s Old Town, out of a run-down office he calls Caffeine Central. It’s through this work that most of the murder investigations fall into his lap, along with the dangers they entail. From there the plots build. They’re interesting, believable, and very Oregon.
In the introduction to one of his earlier books, Easley speaks of his affection for the work of James Lee Burke, best known for his Dave Robicheaux novels. Just as Burke’s most memorable protagonist has a larger-than-life sidekick, Cal Claxton has a Cuban émigré named Nando to help him. And just as Burke’s key character has a beloved daughter, so, too does Claxton—Claire. Best of all, just as Burke writes gloriously of the natural surroundings in Louisiana, Easley writes lovingly of Oregon’s wonders—such that, along with Claxton, the Oregon outdoors is a consistent character running through each novel. Here’s a brief evocation of our special place from the latest: “At sunrise the next morning, the eastern horizon was a strip of polished gold, and above it the night sky was surrendering to a swirl of purple fading to lavender.”
Local issues loom in the background without making the books seem parochial—Native lands in Not Dead Enough, fly fishing on the Deschutes in Dead Float, and a sketchy Portland real estate development in Moving Targets. Each is populated with well-known local Portland hangouts, and each captures the flavor of our special place.
The Cal Claxton mysteries are well plotted with believable, multidimensional characters. They are so good and compelling I plowed through all nine in the past three or four months, in the order in which they were written.
A former scientist and business executive from California, Easley chose wine country for his retirement—though it may not be that much of a retirement, as he’s produced nearly a mystery a year since the publication of Matters of Doubt in 2013. Each is more confident than the last.
Fatal Flaw concerns the apparent suicide of an engineer/inventor who may have come up with a device to detect viruses cheaply and quickly. All this in early 2020, just as COVID is arriving. It’s the inventor’s niece who brings the case to Cal in his Old Town office. Things build from there. No surprise: There are plenty of dead bodies, accompanied by a believable romance. Fatal Flaw is human, well paced, and deeply plotted—just what good mysteries require.
GO: Warren C. Easley reads from Fatal Flaw: A Cal Claxton Mystery at Annie Bloom’s Books, 7834 SW Capitol Highway, 503-246-0053, annieblooms.com. 7 pm Monday, April 24. Free.