Back Bay Blues, by Peter Colt

No, this novel is not really about the Back Bay—not the neighborhood, nor the train station, nor the erstwhile eponymous bay.

And it’s not about the blues. But you probably guessed that.

Mostly it’s about the aftermath of the War in Vietnam. You probably didn’t guess that.

The cover image doesn’t give you much of a clue, does it?

This is pretty much a mainstream novel, though the cover does tell you that it’s an “Andy Roark mystery,” so it might be in the mystery genre instead or at least mystery-adjacent, and Andy Roark might be the detective/protagonist.

The protagonist is indeed a private investigator named Andy Roark. The story, which (significantly) takes place in 1985, is something of a classic mystery in the hard-boiled tradition, not the cozy tradition. It’s more Robert Parker than Agatha Christie. I picked it up because of the local connection and because it involves Vietnamese immigrants (the area around where I live is plurality-Vietnamese, though not majority-).

There is too much shooting in this book (the author’s name doesn’t help) and far too much smoking—though that might be realistic for the featured population of characters in 1985. The politics and sociology of the situation certain were interesting. It was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, which I find unsettling as a reader, not that I object to plot twists, which can keep the mind active and entertained. The flashbacks to the Vietnam War are probably realistic but still troubling: too many battle scenes for this reader. And what’s with the car bombings? This is Boston, not Belfast, as one Irish-American cop says.

So, should you read Back Bay Blues? Well, that depends on your attitude toward what I described in the last two paragraphs. As for me, I’m glad to read it, but I feel no need to read more Peter Colt.

Categories: Books, Dorchester/Boston