Cover Image: Pay or Play

Pay or Play

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Charlie Waldo is a man torn between his minimalist beliefs and finding the truth. Once a star detective with LAPD, his world crashed around him when he helped send a man to prison, only to later find out the man was innocent. His campaign to win the man his freedom made him a pariah in the department. Life bottomed out for Charlie when he found out the innocent man is killed in a prison fight.

Disillusioned, Charlie walks away, buying twelve acres in the mountains to embark on a lifestyle that would make Thoreau smile. He’s determined to do no more damage. To hurt no one else. So, he lessens his carbon footprint by growing his own food, drinking only tap water, and using only transportation that is either public or self-propelled.

He also owns only One Hundred Things.

While I found Charlie’s commitment to the survival of humankind and the planet laudable, to me, it was simply guilt he couldn’t… or didn’t want to get past.

But once a good cop, always a good cop.

During one of his infrequent trips down the mountain to visit on-again, off-again girlfriend, Lorena Nascimento, the private investigator tries to pull him into one of her cases. Again. This time, it’s easy for her when Charlie finds out the prospective client is the star of his guilty pleasure television show, Judge Ida Mudge.

The thirty-five-year-old hazing death of a student from the Judge’s college days may not be the accident it’s believed to be, but the investigation not only keeps Charlie in conflict with widening his carbon footprint, it also conflicts with his other case – finding out why a homeless man died in a strip mall fountain. Charlie would shake the case off but he is hired by a drug trafficker with little patience and who doesn’t accept no for an answer.

Though he wishes he could deny it and return to his mountain, both cases get Charlie’s detective hackles up when finding the truth could also mean finding a murderer.

But how much of himself is he willing to give? Can he hold fast to his beliefs? Does he want to?

Though I found him to be too tightly wound, I liked Charlie Waldo. He tries to stand on his principles, but he’s flawed six ways from Sunday and he knows it. Lorena is also a strong, likable character who wants more from life… and Charlie, but knows she may have to settle for life.

I haven’t read the previous books in the series, but Pay or Play contains just enough back story to key readers in and stands on its own. However, good writing and original story lines have me curious enough to want to start at the beginning!

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The main character of this investigative novel was rather hard to like. Waldo is an ex-policeman. He had sent an innocent man to prison. When he realized his mistake, he tried to get the man out but the man was murdered in prison. Now Waldo lives his life mostly from guilt. One way he punishes himself is by owning only one hundred things. He is also very environmentally conscious. That aspect of the novel was interesting as I learned much about one's carbon footprint and living a life of minimalism.

But Waldo is also just an odd character. He is socially inept. When talking to someone he knows on the phone, perhaps needing a favor, he is abrupt and frequently irritating. Often, after ending the call, he'd realize he never asked his “friend” how he was doing. I was surprised he had any friends left. And he likes to watch reality courtroom drama. Not the kind of person I could identify with at all.

The investigation into the mystery, a death that happened thirty five years ago, is hard to follow because so many people lie. The relationship between Waldo and Lorena is antagonistic but it seems the sex is rewarding enough that they stay together.

This book is the third in a series and it shows. Waldo is hired by a literate thug to do a job because they have a history. I have not read the previous novels so Waldo doing the job for this guy fell flat for me.

This is a private investigation mystery for readers who like quirky characters trying to find the truth in a world of lies and deceit.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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To say Charlie Waldo is eccentric and quirky is an understatement but I can't help but sort of like him.  I cannot, however, even imagine whittling my possessions down to 100 things!!  He seems to carry this theme out to extremes and it's an ongoing topic.  I can't really warm up to his girlfriend for some reason.  She seems to want him around for her business more than anything.

The writing is good, the mysteries are ok, and it's a fast-moving easy read.
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Published by Severn House on December 7, 2021

A drug dealer who mixes the language of the street with erudite references to literature and history takes an interest in the death of a homeless man he regards as his doppelgänger. From his study of literature, he knows that if someone disrespects your doppelgänger, “shit is on.” The dealer coerces Charlie Waldo into investigating the homeless man’s death.

The police assumed that the homeless man’s death was accidental, a conclusion that turns out to be unsupported by the man’s autopsy. Since the man was homeless, the police see no reason to question their initial assumption. Before he died, the victim went to legal aid and rambled something about “a hole under the fire.” As Charlie Waldo investigates the death, several attempts on Waldo’s life convince him that there is more to the death than he understands.

Waldo’s primary investigation, however, involves an attempt to blackmail a television judge, the disrespectful and nasty kind of judge (Judge Judy, Judge Wapner) that television viewers seem to crave. A blackmailer is threatening to expose Judge Ida’s involvement in an apparently accidental death that occurred during a frat initiation 35 years earlier. The blackmailer says the death was a murder. While denying her involvement, Judge Ida wants Waldo to find out if there’s any evidence that might link her to the death. After a long investigation built on false starts, digressions, and an uncomfortable expenditure of carbon emissions, Waldo realizes that he has a doppelgänger of his own. The ending is satisfying in its recognition that not all problems can be solved without giving birth to new and different problems.

Readers who have followed this series will know that Charlie Waldo represents quirkiness on steroids. He was a celebrated police detective until he left the force after blaming himself for an unnecessary death. To atone, he has become obsessed with living responsibly. He comes as near as he can to having a zero carbon footprint. He rides his collapsible bicycle wherever he can. To assure that he does no harm to the planet or its occupants, he allows himself to own only 100 Things at any given time. He won’t eat processed foods or drink beverages that have been packaged. All of that makes Waldo an amusing character, particularly when he needs to decide what Thing he can shed in order to possess, however temporarily, a new Thing. Waldo is also a refreshing change from crime novel protagonists in that he rarely finds it necessary to hit or shoot someone.

Followers of the series will also know that Waldo is locked in a struggle with his girlfriend, Lorena Nascimento, who wants him to work full-time for her detective agency. Lorena drives Waldo crazy by purchasing gadgets, particularly her single-serving coffee maker with its incredibly wasteful pods. The conflict heats up in Pay or Play as Waldo’s interest in solving a murder is at odds with Lorena’s belief that accusing her clients of murder is bad for business. Waldo has no interest in money; Lorena is driven by it. Yet her arguments in favor of earning a living aren’t all bad and she clearly loves Waldo. Whether their oil-and-water relationship has any chance of surviving is a question that will encourage romantic readers to keep returning to the series.

The plot of Pay or Play is intricate without becoming convoluted. Each new development challenges the reader to spot the murderers involved in each of the two deaths. As he did in his earlier Waldo novels, Howard Michael Gould has demonstrated his skill in creating clever mysteries with nontraditional characters. The entertainment value is enhanced by Gould’s characterization of Waldo as a man who knows his behavior is bizarre and that his personality is a bit alienating. His desire for redemption may be a sign of mental illness, but Waldo is such a good person that the world would be a nicer place if we all shared his concern with ethical and responsible behavior. He might be a bit extreme in his rigid adherence to owning no more than 100 Things, but his heart is in the right place. That makes Charlie Waldo one of my favorite modern crime novel protagonists.

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LA Private Detective (sort of) Charlie Waldo is living much off the grid. When an innocent man died in prison several years ago, Waldo took it personally and now lives a life in which the simplest and fewest elements make up his life. He is committed to leaving a near zero-carbon footprint and to owning no more than One Hundred Things.

Against his better judgment he gets roped into working a cold case by a sometime girlfriend who owns a detective agency. She needs help with a high-maintenance celebrity client who is being blackmailed.

Reopening this case, Waldo wonders if the client is actually a murderer ... and if he'll survive long enough to find out.

It's a complex plot swirling around a mystery that is fast-paced. There's lots of action ... not only blackmail, but murder .. even a missing dog. This is a crime fiction with humor and Waldo is a character not to be forgotten. Although 3rd in the series, this is easily read as a stand alone.

Many thanks to the author / Severn House Publishers / Netgalley for the digital copy of this crime fiction. Read and reviewed voluntarily, opinions expressed here are unbiased and entirely my own.
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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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My first thought after finishing Pay or Play, the third book in the Charlie Waldo series by Howard Michael Gould, was ‘I need to pick up the first two books!’ Charlie Waldo is quite the character. An ex-LAPD detective, he’s become somewhat of an ultra-environmentalist, taking to living a minimalistic lifestyle, to the point where he only allows himself to have 100 possessions at any one time, meaning if he needs something new he must get rid of something he currently owns. It’s an interesting quirk that actually leads to some fairly humorous moments throughout the story as Charlie struggles to balance his needs at any one point while attempting to stick to his personal beliefs. It’s clearly not an easy lifestyle (and no way in heck could I ever even consider attempting it, lol) 
     In Pay or Play, Charlie is lured back into his role of detective on not one, but two cases. (Actually now that I think about it, it’s three cases.) His girlfriend, Lorena, is a PI and she ropes him into assisting on a case looking into some plaintiffs in a potential sexual harassment case against the rather over the top cable tv star: Judge Ida Mudge (who’s claim to fame is telling people on her show to ‘sit the F down and shut the F up!’) . But that’s not all the judge wants investigated. She also asks Charlie to look into a decades old ‘accidental’ death from a fraternity hazing incident that occurred during her college years. To top it all off, a drug dealer Charlie has a history with is forcing him to look into the bizarre death of a homeless man.
     It’s a wild story, with plenty of quirky characters, lots of twists and turns, and just the right amount of humor. As I said at the start, I’ll definitely be checking out the earlier books in the series. (4.5 stars rounded up to 5) 
     I’d like to thank Severn House Publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review an eARC of Pay or Play.
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“Pay or Play” is the third novel in the Charlie Waldo private eye series. The idea behind the series is that Waldo is an-ex-LAPD Officer who is now a hermit obsessed with global warming and lives in a small cabin up in Idylwild with only 100 things (a pair of socks counts as one thing). He obsesses over his carbon footprint as he bikes around Los Angeles. It’s a goofy premise and by the third book it’s pretty much run its course and is no longer humorous. Here, Waldo has to explore a fraternity hazing from decades earlier and a death of a homeless man in a shopping center fountain. Nothing too exciting or exceptional.
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