The Past Never Dies by Laura Elvebak


County of Offenses

Harris, Dallas

Character Charges

Murder, Fleeing the Scene of an Accident, Slander, Obstruction of Justice, Driving While Tired, Causing a Scene at the Petroleum Club (well, that's not a crime, but it's certainly gauche)

Priors

Less Dead
Lost Witness
A Matter of Revenge 
Twisted Tale of Texas Landmarks (Accomplice) 
Deadly Diversions (Accomplice) 
A Box of Texas Chocolates (Accomplice) 
A Death in Texas (Accomplice) 

Known Gang Affiliations

Black Opal Books
A Final Twist

Date of Offense

September 2017

Arresting Officer

William Dylan Powell

The Past Never Dies is a taught and suspenseful mystery that brings together old flames and new in an explosive clash between oil executives, lawyers, cops, investors, investigators, lovers and a younger generation trying to make both sense of--and peace with--their parents’ deeds.

The story centers on Matt Langdon, the owner of an independent oil and gas operating company. A smart, hard-working and well-respected leader, he’s built his company up from scratch. With the right financing, he could take his business to the next level. It looks like everything is coming together nicely for him.

But what kind of boring book would that be?

On the way to meet a demanding potential investor, Matt finds a bloodied woman lying in the middle of the road. He’s forced to choose between flaking out on his investor meeting and stopping to help. Of course, there was no real choice for a stand-up guy like Matt. So in his character’s “save the cat” moment, Matt takes her to the hospital and does his best to help.

Still, he has a business to run; once the young girl’s situation seems in hand he dashes off to salvage what he can of his meeting. Things don’t go well. In fact, they don’t go well time and time again after his Good Samaritan deed. As it turns out, this was one accident that was unavoidable as its course was set in motion decades ago.

Elvebak’s prose style is tight and sparse, with fast-paced plotting and down-to-business dialogue. Tension between characters is as thick as tar sands.

You’ve got the intense and hard-nosed investigator Lillian Wallace—who seems to have it in for Matt from the beginning. His son is going through a transitionary period. Multiple people from his past seem to be somehow involved in plotting his bankruptcy, including the ruthless Duncan Rosendekker, who seems like a modern day version of Daniel Day Lewis’s character in There Will Be Blood. The girl he found was less of a coincidence than it seemed and practically everyone in the story appears to both be connected and have a few marked cards tucked up in their sleeve.

I personally enjoyed this book because I always appreciate a good story about the oil business. I grew up the son of an oilfield engineer, and these days I owe a lot of my living to the business the rest of the nation loves to hate. Here in Houston, we don’t complain when oil prices are high—we’re relieved. For us, high crude oil and natural gas prices mean job security, opportunity and billions of dollars sloshing around town. Sure, it makes us seem like a bunch of Bond Villains. But on the other hand, it helped make Texas a rare island of solvency during recent recession years. So if, like me, you’re open-minded enough to see oil and gas people as actual humans involved in a vital and interesting business, you may dig this book.

You may also enjoy reading other crime stories with an oil and gas setting, including The Cost of Crude by Inge-Lise Goss, Pipeline: A Novel of Suspense by Peter Schechter, any of the dozen or so oil and gas themed novels of the late Canadian author John Ballem and books like 13 Days: The Pythagoras Conspiracy and Strike Price by LA Starks.

Fun fact: Raymond Chandler became a mystery novelist after losing his job as an oil company executive.

But, of course, even if you don’t know or like the oil business, you’ll still enjoy this story. Laura Elvebak is a writer’s writer. Readers may be familiar with her past works, such as her Niki Alexander mystery series that includes Less Dead, Lost Witness and A Matter of Revenge. And if you’re a part of the mystery writing scene, especially in Texas, you definitely already know her name.

A recent judge for the prestigious Mystery Writer’s Association Edgar Awards, she helps run the Houston MWA meetings (Southwest Chapter), regularly makes the conference circuit and helps other writers improve their craft. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime and a bunch of other nefarious groups. And she’s studied creative writing at UCLA, Rice University and other prestigious programs. She also runs with the Final Twist crowd.

Polite and soft-spoken, you might look at Laura Elvebak and say to yourself: “Awww. She seems like a sweet little lady—probably writes cozies in which cats steal cupcakes from a library or something.” You can make that assumption. But that’s why the word “assumption” has “ass” right in it. Elvebak’s work is cutthroat, not cozy; if she sets a scene at a library, fuck the cupcakes—you’d better check the storage closet for a tied up child or make sure there isn’t a drug dealer selling smack to kids in the parking lot.

Elvebak was once a former go-go dancer in the ‘60s. She’s lived in New York, New Jersey and other places where only the strong survive. She’s shown six husbands the door, and has seen some things. So she writes in-your-face crime stories with a dark, sharp edge. All of her books give me the feeling that something unexpected is about to happen to the main character at any minute—and not a surprise birthday party with ponies and balloons. The Past Never Dies is no exception.

So tap into this book if you’re looking for a tangled mystery in which long-term justice is sought, short-term situations reach a boiling point, family is redefined and everyone proves they'll do whatever it takes to protect their own family interests.  

Verdict: Guilty of delivering a switchback mystery oozing with dark secrets from the past. 

 
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