Herbie’s Diner by L. Joseph Shosty

Herbie’s Diner by L. Joseph Shosty
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Historical
Length: Short Story (44 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The year is 1950.

Johnny Hardwood used to be an actor, but he got typecast playing detectives. So he quit the business and became what people thought he should be. Now he’s got a big case involving a man named Mort Peters, who embezzled money from a major film studio and then faked his death, leaving a penniless widow behind. Johnny’s tracked him to a little place south of Sacramento, in the middle of nowhere.

On the outside, Herbie’s Diner is just another run-down greasy spoon with bad coffee and overcooked fried chicken, but Johnny’s about to learn that appearances are deceiving. Soon, the coffee’s run out, and there’s a bevy of killers, swindlers, femme fatales, and other types straight out of a private eye flick, looking to put him down for the dirt nap. Only this isn’t the movies. The bullets are real, pain hurts, and the good guy doesn’t necessarily beat the bad guys and get the girl.

Johnny’s got his back against the wall. He has to decide if he’s really a tough-as-nails detective, or if he’s still an actor at heart, playing pretend. And he’d better think fast because the people out for his skin don’t care which he is. Actor or detective, they all die the same way.

Anything can happen in the middle of nowhere.

The plot was full of rich, striking descriptions. The author’s ability to create such detailed sketches of the setting and characters was especially noticeable early on when Johnny Harwood first arrived at Herbie’s Diner. A few paragraphs were dedicated to describing this isolated little restaurant, and they transitioned smoothly into the explanation for what Johnny was doing there. I could easily picture exactly what the main character was seeing, feeling, and smelling, especially as he moved closer to the climax.

Several clues were revealed early on that made it easy for me to figure out what was going on. I would have preferred to have fewer hints about the ending. It was disappointing to have such a good idea of what the ending would probably be like so soon. Had this not been the case, I would have given this tale a much higher rating as it was otherwise enjoyable.

The pacing was strong and suspenseful. This is a heavily plot-based story that I couldn’t put down until I’d finished it. There was simply no obvious place to take a break from reading it, but that’s a good thing for something this length! While this wasn’t the first time I’ve read one of Mr. Shosty’s book, it did make me feel curious about everything he’s written that I haven’t picked up yet. From what I’ve seen from him so far, he does know how to keep this reader’s attention from the beginning to the end.

Give Herbie’s Diner a try if you like the style of classic crime fiction.

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