What is it about a pleasant fragrance that makes it appealing? What makes two people click? Often times it comes down to chemistry. Award winning photographer Hans Kemp (Burmese Light; Bikes of Burden; Carrying Cambodia) has entered the crowded private investigator genre under his pen name of Jonathan Kemp. Chicago P.I. Scanner Grant is teamed with a curvaceous ball buster of a beauty, Maxine Zwoelstra as they set out to solve two crimes: the murder of a young Tibetan girl on American soil and a missing person case, which smells more like Limburger cheese. The latter case involves searching for Max’s father and takes the duo to Hong Kong and the casinos of Macao. Kemp has put his keen sense of observation and Scanner’s olfactory system to good use in A Nose For Trouble. Physical descriptions and settings are well written with attention paid to detail. The first time novelist mixes an assortment of memorable characters, historical events, hot, spicy and believable sex scenes, along with a dead body or three in an entertaining but at times overly complex mystery. The characters include a Chicago Taxi driver with Tibetan leanings, a Vietnamese pimp, a Nazi scientist and my personal favorite a good old Aussie bloke who ends up down under.
Of the two main characters, Scanner and Max, both were developed well by Kemp but I enjoyed the time when the sultry Max was on the page or the crime solving pair were together more than when Scanner was flying solo. As dynamic duos go the scale is tipped heavily in Max’s favor. Scanner likes his sex – but he resists the ample temptations of Max; they stick to the business at hand, which turned out to be a good call. Scanner has few vices and isn’t crazy about toting a gun in gun crazy America or elsewhere – not that there’s anything wrong with that. The narrative tends to moralize a bit much, which I found distracting at times as it didn’t always propel the story forward. I get that corporate greed and skyrocketing real estate prices are bad for many. I couldn’t connect the dots as to how that effects a Hong Kong hooker turning her third trick of the day. The historical components were interesting about Germany and Tibet in particular and I have no doubt they are accurate even though they weren’t taught in any history classes I took. No surprises there. It is one reason I read fiction by knowledgeable and well traveled people like Kemp, to find out the truth. For humorous moments don’t look to Scanner for levity – a wisecracking P.I. he is not. The cab driving Lobsong is interjected at just the right times to entertain the reader in his own unique eastern way.
All in all Kemp gets a lot of things right with his initial novel. Is the writing and protagonist equal to the Detective Maier mysteries written by his partner at Crime Wave Press, Tom Vater? Not yet, in my opinion but by pairing Scanner and Max he’s given us a whiff of things to come. Kemp opens his novel with an explosive scene involving a 1978 NBA basketball broadcast, which referenced one of my favorite players, Brian Winters of the Milwaukee Bucks. Al McGuire coached at Marquette University in Milwaukee during the 1970s where he won an NCAA Basketball Championship. Al once said, “The best thing about a sophomore is they become a junior.” He meant experience matters. The best thing, in my opinion, about a Scanner and Max Mystery by Jonathan Kemp, will not be A Nose For Trouble. It will be the sequel, which has been set up perfectly. Scanner and Max have good chemistry together. And unlike perfume that’s something you cannot buy.