Downtown detective

By Elizabeth Kiem

Andy Straka, our hometown runaway hit detective novelist, has a clever niche. His private investigator, Frank Pavlicek, is not just a tough-talking renegade dick-– he’s an ace falconer to boot. Sort of like Straka himself, although it’s safe to say Straka is more celebrated as a writer than as a sleuth or a bird-handler these days.
Straka doesn’t beat his reader over the head with the parallels between his two great loves. In his second novel, A Killing Sky, the reference comes in chapter five, shortly after Pavlicek has been tapped by the college-age daughter of a U.S. congressman to find her missing twin sister. He takes the case and then heads out with his trained hawk to do some off-the-clock hunting. The bird, he explains, if it is a good one, should drop “like a bolt commissioned by a sudden killing sky to choose among {its} slower-flying quarry.”
Straka cites Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett among his inspirations, and A Killing Sky has a small sampling of noir characters: There’s a vindictive bombshell adulteress who’s plotting a TV exposé to ruin her former lover, the high-profile Congressman; toughs of all color (the most persistent of whom is dubbed “the turnip” by the uncharitable Pavlicek) stand ready to break thumbs or worse; a squad of well-meaning but unresourceful cops is headed by an overwrought Police Chief who gets apoplectic every time our hero scores; and of course, the trusty baretta-toting sidekick (who in this day and age is also a primo computer hacker) whose unassailable name is Jake Toronto.

Pavlicek, like Straka, is a transplanted Yankee– but a New Yorker in Albemarle County does not a Bogart make. The dame that gets too close and winds up in a diabetic coma is from Richmond, not Beverly Hills. And on sleepless nights turning over his leads, Pavlicek roams Gordon Avenue, not the IRT.
It’s almost disconcerting how true to Charlottesville Straka remains. From the hospital parking garage where the missing daughter’s bloody rental car is discovered, down to the fortunately placed tunnel that leads from our hero’s Water Street office to the safety of the unsentried side of the tracks, every spot on Pavlicek’s circuitous hunt will be familiar to readers. Some may find a smug pleasure in that. After all, why should L.A. and Boca get all the fun? After all, there is no shortage of political intrigue or murderous aspiration.

Agatha nominee Andy Straka discusses and signs copies of his second novel, A Killing Sky, Wednesday, May 15, at 7pm at Barnes & Noble, Barracks Road Shopping Center. 984-0461

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