Mink Eyes
by Dan Flanigan
Arjuna Books

"If you were not very careful, you could go to sleep and sleepwalk your life away."

In this fast-paced, exciting novel, readers meet the unpredictable Peter O’Keefe, a Vietnam vet who struggles with his post-war life. Scarred both physically and emotionally, O’Keefe attempts to balance his life as a private investigator with being a dedicated father to his daughter. However, his professional life keeps overriding his paternal one, especially after his childhood friend, Mike Harrigan, hires O’Keefe to investigate a Ponzi scheme. O’Keefe’s investigation takes him deep into the Ozarks. In the Ozarks, readers encounter a place where “the tiny churches… and the towns they ministered to seemed like nothing if not monuments to the futility of hope.” Nonetheless, for the mink farm that few locals know anything about, a darker side exists, and readers follow O’Keefe as he plunges headfirst into a treacherous realm of drug smuggling, murder, and romance.

Peter O’ Keefe is a fascinating character. Despite his emotional and physical scars, hardened outlook, and even harder physique, he is a philosophical, well-rounded man. This dichotomy first emerges for readers when they see him listening to Bach while working in his office. He also owns a unique collection of books which, even though most people who know him would assume he’s never read, he knows very well. In this regard, O’ Keefe is like the quiet professional turned Renaissance man. Thus, he keeps readers guessing, and they can never assume what the protagonist will do next. In fact, it is most likely that he will do the opposite of their assumptions. This unpredictability is what quickly creates the novel’s swift pacing.

At certain points, the book provides a philosophical reflection about its setting in the Ozarks. Through O’ Keefe’s careful observations, readers see the town in which he initially begins his investigation as a “certain kind of small town.” O’Keefe then observes that this “certain kind of small town” is a place “where form so perfectly follows function, where everything is marginal, bare, cheap.” The town has the potential to “darken the soul.” One character, Jane, embodies O’Keefe’s interpretation of the town. Jane is the secretary of the man whom O’Keefe is sent to investigate. O’Keefe observes that she is “forty or close to it and rather pretty.” However, Jane is also, as she describes herself, “‘Stuck. Stuck in every way you can be stuck.’” Therefore, the novel is not merely another fast-paced thriller. Because of its contemplation of place, and specifically an American place in which a large swath of historical and contemporary literature is set, it is a unique contribution to literature incorporating the American South as its prominent setting.

In O’ Keefe’s character, too, readers discover a man set in his ways but who is willing to change—either by necessity or by force. In him, they find a different kind of hero, one who is willing to continually transform himself and whom readers cannot quickly categorize. O’Keefe, as well as the situations in which he finds himself and manages to escape, will leave readers hoping for the next installment in his adventures. This book breathes new life into a well-worn, often too predictable genre.

Flanigan's The Big Tilt was a 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize Short List book.

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