Book Review: “Dust and Desire: A Joel Sorrell Novel” by Conrad Williams

Joel Sorrell is a private investigator with about ninety-nine problems, and Kara Geenan is only the most recent one. Joel loves missing person cases, so when a desperate Kara seeks Joel’s assistance in locating her missing brother, he can’t help but look into it.

At first, Joel thinks it’s a pretty open-and-shut case. He assumes that Kara’s brother, who has been missing less than twenty-four hours, is probably out at a bar, not taking her calls, or involved in a host of other activities he simply doesn’t want his sister to know about. But when an attempt is made on Joel’s life and Kara turns up missing too, Joel finds that his open-and-shut case might be a bit more involved than he initially thought. There’s a ruthless killer on the loose with his sights set on Joel, and Joel needs to find him before more of his friends and loved ones get pulled into the mess.

This is the kind of book that you have to stop and think about after you finish that last page. At least it was for me. Williams did an excellent job of setting the scene in this book. The language was vivid and crisp, and I felt like I could visualize everything and literally walk, limp, or run alongside Joel Sorrell throughout the novel. Dust and Desire is a shining example of hard-boiled crime fiction–dark, gritty, compelling, and a little terrifying, right up until the end. I think my favorite part about this book, apart from the fact that I feel like I could easily navigate Williams’s London, is the character of Joel. Someone really needs to give Joel a hug. He’s a classic example of the PI character that this genre is known for. He’s got a past speckled with its own horrors, a love (or perhaps a need) for alcohol, and a witty comeback for almost anything thrown at him. While Joel is hands-down the shining star of the novel, the rest of Williams’s characters are equally as fascinating, and I kept turning the page hoping to learn more and more about them.

As much as I enjoyed those aspects, I did have a few qualms with this novel. Dust and Desire is broken into three parts, and the second part is written from a completely different perspective than the other two – a look, I think, into the killer’s mind and motivations. Unfortunately, there was a lot of information here, a lot of characters introduced and names to keep track of, and some of them were inconsequential to the rest of the novel.

Throughout the novel, as we’re following Joel, he reveals quite a bit about his past, mainly through inner monologue. His thoughts often stray to his wife, and the gruesome manner in which she died, or to his daughter, who disappeared shortly after his wife’s death. While this information definitely left me curious, I also found myself a little confused, and wondering what it had to do with the guy that was trying to hunt down Joel and his friends. I will say that this confusion eventually waned, but it definitely had me scratching my head a few times.

There were some fairly graphic descriptions of the manner of Joel’s wife’s death and the deaths of a few other characters, and while I appreciate a bit of a bloody mess in a good crime novel as much as the next girl, I found that there were aspects of this novel wherein the gore didn’t really lead to a pay-off that made any sense. I also found myself a little disappointed when I reached the ending. I had been hoping that one resolution would lead to another, and I didn’t get what I wanted, but I think rather than pout, I’m just going to have to sit on the edge of my seat and wait until the next Joel Sorrell novel comes out.

This isn’t exactly the kind of thing you’d read as a bedtime story for the kids at night, but if you’re looking for a thought-provoking new crime novel to add to your collection (and you don’t mind waiting for the next Joel Sorrell novel to come out) you should definitely check out Dust and Desire. I didn’t put it down until I’d finished it, and there’s even a Joel Sorrell short story at the end. My theory? Williams wanted to make sure we had a little more Joel Sorrell to tide us over until the next book comes out.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.