Book ReviewJim Parisi

Pura Vida, Detroit Style

Pura VidaBy Jim Parisi

Cops grow a tough shell. They have to, I am told, or they’ll never make it. The violence, injustice and dark underside of the human condition that they witness on a regular basis hardens them. Everyone is a suspect. They eat hoagie sandwiches while cracking jokes together at gruesome murder scenes. Take, for example, Detroit homicide detective Jacob Miller: he’s been on the job for thirteen years, seen it all, hell, even his dad was a cop, even if they aren’t speaking to each other any more.

Jaime Peligro Books and Music

Jacob Miller is also the main character of “Pura Vida”, the first novel by Jim Utsler, who has been coming to the Tamarindo area for a dozen years, each year trying to stay a bit longer. But back to detective Miller who, along with Albert, his work partner of five years, decide finally that enough is enough in regard to a drug dealer by the name of Willy, who has taken “scumbag” to a new level with some of his unspeakable practices. So the two cops decide to teach him a little lesson and abscond with some of his money in the process. Their real problem starts when Albert shoots and kills Willy. They do a poor job of covering it up and eventually get thumbed. Miller decides to rat his partner out for in exchange for a short term at a minimum security federal pen. During his five year stint, he meets some higher-end crooks and finds a way to skim a fellow inmate who has illegally hidden a lot of money in off-shore accounts.

When he is released, Miller knows he can’t stay anywhere near Detroit, so he grabs some of his money and makes his way to the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica, moving into a little town that looks a lot like Tamarindo and Langosta. Utsler’s portrayal of some of the atypical ex-pat characters here is a hoot, something, I believe, he enjoyed lampooning. But wait! One of the affluent gringas turns up dead, brutally murdered. And Miller cannot resist re-donning his detective’s cap and solving the crime. This actually lands him in a tureen of trouble as his good gesture receives international press coverage, and the guy he burned in The Pen hears about it.

Utsler told me he wanted to write a novel about revenge and he certainly has accomplished that. I think he did a splendid job of portraying Miller’s detached character and I particularly liked the language used for the main character’s inner reflections at the beginning of some of the chapters. And there is also a bit of romance, which may be part of the subject matter for Utsler’s second novel, which he is currently writing. Jim assured me that it will be “driven by the same search for some sort of passive-aggressive salvation as in ‘Pura Vida’”. I will definitely read it.