Thornton, Marshall. Night Drop. Kenmore Books. 2017. $9.99. 200p. PB. 978-1-973782315.
In the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, video-store proprietor Noah Valentine goes to collect some overdue VHS tapes from the home of Guy Peterson, a photographer who died when his camera shop burned down. Noah quickly finds himself caught up in a mystery when he discovers some photographs that may have made Guy a target for murder. Unable to trust the LAPD detectives assigned to the case, Noah needs his friends’ help in unraveling the case before he ends up as the next victim.
Author Marshall Thornton strikes a tone that balances between cozy mystery and hardboiled noir. Noah and his friends are affable (if slightly underdeveloped in the case of the friends), but there are still period-appropriate concerns, including the fallout from the AIDS crisis and the strained relationship between the gay community and the LAPD. Night Drop includes enough references to then-current pop culture institutions like Doogie Howser and cable television VJs to evoke the 1990s without becoming distracting. Similarly, the book contains homages to popular Los Angeles noir tropes. Thornton grounds his tale in both place and time, which works to the story’s benefit.
Night Drop is recommended for readers of mysteries looking for a light, quick read that doesn’t sacrifice cultural commentary for quirky crime-solving. The book is billed as the first in the Pinx Video Mystery series. There is enough character-building in this novel for protagonist Noah Valentine to warrant further exploration and adventures.
University of Albany Libraries
[Editor’s note: Winner of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Mystery.]