The book opens with private investigator Gus Harris sitting in his car outside of a school looking for a particular kid to be let out. With picture in hand, Harris waits. The kid peaks out of the school gate and runs forcing Harris to make a U-turn amidst the hustle and bustle of school getting out and give chase. And thus begins CS DeWildt’s Suburban Dick.
The use of dick in the title is in reference to Harris job and how he plays with others – or should I say how he doesn’t play well with others. When I say others, I mean everybody. Harris and his daughter, Jessie, go to a high school disciplinary hearing run by the school’s dean of discipline, Willis, because Jessie, as much as she would deny it, is much like her father.
Willis banged his gavel and called the hearing to order.
“Is that necessary?” Gus asked.
“Excuse me?” Willis said.
“The pageantry? Let’s just talk about my kid. What do you say she did?”
“Formality is nothing to be—.”
“Fuck formality,” Gus said. “I’m missing my stories for this.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jessie slink down in the seat.
Jessie might not give her dad a “Best Dad Ever” coffee mug for his birthday, but Harris is a family man, okay, rather an ex-husband with two kids, and maybe not the best dad either, but he’s there or attempts to be. As his ex-wife Lucy tells him, “I know you are. And that’s great I suppose. But you’re always ‘trying’. When’s the last time you ‘did?’”
Harris is hired by a distraught husband and wife to find their high school son, Albie Hughes, who has run away from home. The son was also friends with another high school student and wrestler who killed himself weeks before. As we follow Harris on the trail of finding the missing wrestler, and like all PI books, one mystery leads to another which is wrapped in a third and maybe a fourth. But the mysteries behind Suburban Dick are not too difficult to fess out and that’s okay as real-life mysteries in the suburbs never are. There are some twists and surprises peppered throughout Suburban Dick, but this book is not one to rely on “You’ll never guess the ending.” One of the staples of private investigator novels are the climatic scenes and DeWildt has got this and not in, “Here hold my beer” got this, the end of Suburban Dick is fast paced and flows smoothly.
DeWildt’s book stands on the strength and realness of his characters. These aren’t cardboard cutouts going through private investigator tropes. Harris acts like a total ass to his ex-wife’s boyfriend and though the boyfriend might not like Harris, he doesn’t get all peacocky towards Harris, instead his response is . . . . well . . . mature and reasonable. DeWildt shines in writing great kid characters from Harris’ young son Ernie, a kid soon in need of braces, or his teenage daughter Jessie, whose teenage-hate toward her father fills the pages with eye-rolls and door slams.
CS DeWildt’s Suburban Dick is a damn fine private eye book that embraces American suburbia and doesn’t apologize for doing so. This isn’t a suburban noir – is that even a thing? – and even though there is darkness in places, Suburban Dick is more a look at the engines that propel suburbia: families, mistakes, and always-present need to have a steady paycheck.