“The more I see of the moneyed classes, the more I understand the guillotine.”
–George Bernard Shaw
Sunset and Jericho is the fourth book in Vancouver writer Sam Wiebe’s series featuring Private Investigator Dave Wakeland, but it stands alone just fine. Here, Wiebe takes the beloved trope of the world-weary detective dragged into the problems of the rich, dissects it, and puts it back together as something fresh, challenging, and above all, entertaining.
In this novel, the mayor’s brother has gone missing, a transit cop has been beaten and blinded, and a new group calling itself the Death of Kings is calling for open class warfare on the city’s troubled streets. Wakeland, who is still recovering from a breakup and growing increasingly disillusioned with his home city, refuses to get involved in the kidnapping investigation but does agree to track down the cop’s missing gun. Of course, the two incidents end up being inextricably linked, and Wakeland’s search takes him from Vancouver’s mansions to its flophouse hotels, and everywhere in between.
In this novel, Wiebe has done the nearly impossible: pulling off a novel about the perils of political idealism that is neither reactionary nor preachy. The bad guys—or are they?—use terrible tactics, including kidnapping and murder, in their efforts to save the world. Their hearts might really be in the right place, whereas those of the wealthy clients Wakeland is trying to help are not. He probably has more in common with these criminals than he does with their victims. But the radicals’ violence, backed by their insistence that they know what’s best for those around them, ends up destroying any sense of peace and security for the people they claim to help. As meme-worthy as it might be, the guillotine probably isn’t the answer after all.
Wiebe’s keen eye for observation comes across throughout the novel, particularly in his protagonist’s interactions with other people. In contrast to the various super-hero characters out there, Wakeland is struggling in many ways. We see him trying to figure out his relationships with his sister and his unconventional office manager. His security agency is under pressure, and like many Vancouverites his age, Wakeland is deeply sad about being unable to afford a home in his own city. His new love interest sees through his tough-guy exterior, and through her eyes, we see Wakeland begin to question his own worldview in a way that seems entirely natural for the experiences he’s had. That’s not easy to do in a beloved series, but Wiebe pulls it off.
Sunset and Jericho, along with the other novels in the Wakeland series, is worth a read if you like exciting crime fiction that shows the world in all its gritty ambiguity.