Book Review: Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder
Steve Ulfelder’s Purgatory Chasm was a very different kind of reading experience for me. Protagonist Conway Sax is kind of an anti-hero. A former race car driver and car mechanic, on parole after serving time for manslaughter, Sax is stumbling through his life and stumbles upon a complex and many-layered case involving drugs, murder and money. While the librarians have not classified Purgatory Chasm as a mystery, it contains some elements of that genre, as well as some elements of the thriller or action novel.
Conway Sax is a recovering alcoholic and a devoted member of his rather bad ass local AA group, the Barnburners. An obnoxious member of that group asks Sax for his help in recovering his vintage Mercedes which has been at a mechanic’s shop for some time, and the shop is not doing any of the restoration work that had been ordered. While Sax clearly does not care for Tander Phigg, his obnoxious acquaintance, he will never refuse help to anyone in the Barnburners and so begins looking into Motorworken and its owner Ollie and his employee, Josh. Few things are as they appear and Sax is drawn into trying to solve the mysteries he uncovers. Occasionally, Sax’ interest and ability in solving crimes seems a bit contrived, but by and large the character comes across as a street-wise tough guy who uses both brains and brawn, as Tander Phigg is killed and the police suspect him of involvement in the crime.
Purgatory Chasm is to a large extent, a “men’s novel”. For the most part, the book’s few female characters play secondary roles and most of the interactions are between Sax and his Barnburners sidekick Randall, and with the late Tander Phigg’s son Trey. There is a lot of fighting, a lot of fast driving and a lot of straight male camaraderie. If you enjoy novels about bad boy anti-heroes, Purgatory Chasm is well-written, richly plotted and a lot of fun. Recommended.