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by George Weir and Milton Burton
Cinco Puntas Press, June 2013
224 pages
ISBN: 1935955527

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LONG FALL FROM HEAVEN ends the career of Texas author Milton Burton. Born in 1947 in Jacksonville, Texas, having studied history at Stephen F. Austin University, Burton published his first novel, which concerned high-stakes poker in West Texas, THE ROGUE'S GAME, in 2005. THE SWEET AND THE DEAD (2006), NIGHTS OF THE RED MOON (2010), THE DEVIL'S ODDS (2012), and THESE MORTAL REMAINS (2013) followed. After Burton died in 2013, his friend George Weir ably completed Burton's LONG FALL FROM HEAVEN, a Galveston noir set in 1987, flashing back, as Burton's novels frequently do, to the decade of his birth.

As LONG FALL opens, a psychopath whose pseudonym is Longnight breaks out of confinement in 1947. Drawn to Galveston's sleazy nightlife, where gambling and prostitutes can be had for the asking at the glittering hotel Galvez, Longnight commits multiple murders. Longnight's actions are revealed in flashback chapters that break up the novel's main concern, a 1987 murder in a warehouse that seems, strangely, to be tied to the events of 1947.

Readers meet bad (or inept) cop, Leland Morgan, sultry, wealthy, and mysterious Vivian DeMoers, heiress to a fortune, an unplanned pregnancy in the DeMoers family, a baby kidnapping, a mysterious infant raised under a hint of scandal, a mathematical genius whose skills are necessary for the creation of the A-bomb: connections among these pieces are gradually revealed to the reader over beers and whiskeys consumed in bars and diners, in prison interview rooms, and in parking lots.

Burton applies the "noir" by introducing gamblers, depressed cops who have seen one murder too many, the seedy red-light district, the pan-handlers on the sea-wall. The novel employs the "procedure" of the police procedural sparingly, relying on readers to overhear conversations in 1947 and 1987 and put together the pieces.

Milton Burton had a number of years to develop into a top-notch mystery writer; he didn't have as many as he needed, though. The expository lump looms large here. Too much of the back-story is told over coffee; not enough through action. If Milton were here, he might argue that, realistically, gossiping over coffee is something many Texans do, and the coffee break is a set-piece of 1930s-1950s America. I would argue back, after sipping my tea and calling the waitress over to ask for coconut cream pie: Milton! If two people in a mystery novel meet over coffee and jaw for several pages, they have to be very interesting indeed.

Cathy Downs, Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is a longtime devotee of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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