“Book Review: Latitude 47”
Reviewed by Joseph Haeger
A compelling crime story with just the right balance of mystery and speculation
A period piece of sorts, Latitude 47 by Brian Peters takes place in Seattle in 1994. Like classic crime novels, we’re provided with a couple of mysteries—the A and B plot—and then we get the pleasure of seeing how they slowly intersect. This story is atypical though, because it’s seen through the eyes of a reporter, giving us all the investigative qualities without the responsibilities of law enforcement. This creates an intriguing motivation for our main character because he doesn’t want the case to be solved necessarily for closure, but so he’ll have something juicy to write about.
Clay is a veteran crime journalist focusing on a down-and-out neighborhood, and he needs a detective’s help to navigate the intricacies of the area. His article will spotlight a string of homicides, and by teaming up with Detective Carpenter, he has an inside track to the grisly murders.
At the start of the book, he’s already disillusioned with his job, and his reemergence of sleepwalking puts a further damper on his professional ambitions; he’s constantly worried about where he’s been and what he’s been doing each night. He finds himself becoming more tired as he wakes up each morning in wet clothes and injured feet.
And he’s not the only one who’s suspicious of his nightly jaunts. As the plot moves forward, we begin to wonder how much a role Clay plays in the same crimes he’s supposedly investigating.
Latitude 47 is a relatively straight-forward crime novel, and I think that’s why it succeeds. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the seedy underworld of a budding city. Peters creates a solid story that engages the reader, pulling us into the conflicts with authentic mystery.
The suspense thickens as we witness Clay’s mental facilities deteriorate—and even here, Peters includes some fun subtle hints. At the start of the book, through chapter headers, it is clear what day and time it is, but as the novel progresses, we start losing the specific days. By the end we barely get the time, resulting in the reader being as disoriented as our main character. This was a simple choice by Peters that had a great effect and helps push the book to the next level.
At the end we’re left with some questions unanswered. Normally this might be something that would work against a book—and halfway through I even wondered how annoyed I’d be if everything didn’t get wrapped up. When Latitude 47 finished, I realized Peters had masterfully shifted expectations and realigned what we needed in a resolution. It’s one part “gotcha,” one part “ambiguity,” and one part “I knew it.”
Clay being disillusioned and checked out from his job makes us think he’s playing a bigger role in the whole mystery; at times it feels like it’s up to Detective Carpenter to get to the bottom of everything, but we only interact with the detective through Clay’s perspective, naturally filtering this character. So: are we rooting against false hope? Are we seeing things that aren’t there? These are the questions that are answered while details fall by the wayside, and this intentionality is why Latitude 47 is such a knockout.
I can’t champion the act of simplicity more, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call the plot of Latitude 47 simple, the approach to the genre is. Peters tells a solid and compelling story that satisfies everything I want in a crime book. I was engaged and invested each step of the way and the further I read the quicker I wanted to read. The pacing made me into a ravenous reader as I sought to uncover the mystery—and like a pro, Peters gives us enough to satiate our desires for the truth, but not enough to let us forget the story as a whole. The lives of these characters will linger in my mind, like whispers on a dark and rainy night.
Print length: 191 pages
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