Reviwe: Pay or Play – Charlie Waldo #3 (Howard Michael Gould)

If I had to sum up this book in one word, that word would be: annoying.

Charlie Waldo is a former cop who helped send an innocent man to prison, only to turn around, do a ton of work to help get him released, only to see that man murdered before he got out (I think, on that last part – pretty sure he was still in when he was murdered). Waldo resigns from the LAPD, buys a small house up in the hills, and rarely comes off the mountain.

Except in fire season, because he’s living in Idyllwild (which was almost burned right off the map in real life during that rather heinous fire season of 2018). Before he leaves, though, a trafficker by the name of Don Q wants something. These two apparently have some history, which I found I didn’t care about. Don Q wants Waldo to find out the identity of a homeless man who seemed to have drowned in a fountain. Waldo doesn’t want to do it, but I’m guessing when a well connected and sort of powerful drug dealer tells you to do something, you just do it.

Here’s some of the annoying: Don Q tries to give him an envelope of cash – take it, dummy, you don’t have a job – but Waldo is wedded to this minimalism thing he started after resigning from the LAPD, and he already has 100 Things (yes, it’s capitalized). Don Q takes care of that for him by taking his laptop and leaving the money. Other annoyance: Waldo donating big pieces of his money to charities. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, if you don’t have giant signs screaming that you need therapy. Waldo does need some serious therapy.

Meanwhile, the girlfriend he ghosted to go worship at the altar of minimalism in the hills needs him to come sit in on a meeting with a prospective client. He agrees, but not until we get another dose of the 100 Things stuff, this time bitching about the things the girlfriend has in the house.

But they go, and it’s a scripted reality show judge who wants to get another lawyer off her back and break her contract with (disguised Netflix) in favor of syndicating herself, which would yield many more zeroes on her paycheck. Lorena, Waldo’s girlfriend, and the rest of her crew work on that.

Someone is also trying to blackmail the judge, and she talks privately with Waldo about that, telling him to go figure it out. That sets Waldo off on a quest to solve a 35 year old crime that was ruled an accident: a pledge to a frat who wandered off and fell off a small cliff. I think the mystery was two levels too complex, really, and it didn’t have to be.

Throughout all this, we get ample helping of Waldo fetishizing minimalism and his 100 Things rule, and I have to say that crap got old, really fast. He also has a hangup about carbon emissions and is constantly on Lorena’s case about it and worrying about his own footprint as he flies around, since the case takes him out of LA. I get it, we should be more concerned about the environment, but there’s a patience level for everything, and Waldo blew that up for me by the end of the fifth chapter.

Meanwhile, Don Q is on Waldo’s case about the homeless dude, who Waldo finds out was a man the others in the same homeless “camp” called The Professor. The solving of this mystery involves two brothers, an almost abandoned property, a grave, and a dog.

By the end, I decided the only people who were not entirely vile or overly annoying were the homeless people The Professor knew, and Don Q.

It’s written well enough – although in my head, I assigned a very whiny voice to Waldo when he started in on the 100 Things or carbon emissions stuff – and the mystery is okay, even if a bit too complex for its own good.

Three out of five stars.

Thanks to Severn House and NetGalley for the reading copy.

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