What’s new, everyone? Joseph Schneider has just come out with The Darkest Game, the third standalone entry in his LAPD Detective Tully Jarsdel Mystery series. Marcus Tullius “Tully” Jarsdel himself is a Los Angeles-based homicide detective who was once a history PhD candidate. His erudite and pensive personality makes him an easy target for mockery and dismissal, especially when it comes to his old-school partner Oscar Morales and the rest of their cop colleagues. Things are no different in The Darkest Game, which sees Jarsdel working with Morales to figure out who broke into the Laurel Canyon home of museum curator Dean Burken and fatally shot him, with the trail leading to suspects like Ellery Keating, a longtime museum board member with whom Burken worked, and a gang of criminals who fashion themselves as modern-day pirates.
Thank you to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for giving me a copy of this eARC in exchange for my honest review!
While I haven’t read the first two books in the series, this didn’t stop me from being able to jump in and derive some pleasure from this noir-flavored police procedural. The element I enjoyed the most was Jarsdel’s intellectual design and the stark contrast it has with its hardboiled surroundings. This is demonstrated most prominently via his banter with Morales, whose gruff dialogue falls in line with our expectations of the detective stereotype and emphasizes the cultivated expanse of Jarsdel’s vocabulary and background. I also got drawn into Jarsdel’s relationship with Baba, one of his two dads. The guilt-ridden backstory that’s gradually unveiled for Baba adds an affecting note to their dynamic and to the motivations that drove Jarsdel to sign up for the police academy in the first place.
Don’t head into The Darkest Game and expect it to pull you into a straightforward murder case that moves as fast as a cheetah, though. The mystery lumbers along at a deliberate pace and tends to meander between multiple digressions into topics like the historical genocide of L.A.’s Indigenous population and the museum industry. This could become a turnoff for impatient readers. Unless you’re able to get the majority of the obscure trivia—such as the name-dropping of Phineas Gage—that Schneider spreads all across his novel, they might leave you unsatisfied as well. Funny, since that’s probably when you’d sympathize with the characters in the book who find the academic detective to be grating.
All in all, The Darkest Game is an unusually cerebral police procedural that, despite its wandering plot and slow pacing, has encouraged me to add its predecessors, One Day You’ll Burn and What Waits for You, to my TBR pile.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 75/100