The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay is a surprise. It is surprisingly good. There are a lot of things about this mystery that are unconventional, including the detective it introduces, but I was hooked from the first page.
Tenzing Norbu (“Ten” for short) grew up wanting to become a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. The ambition would not have been that far out of the ordinary, if it weren’t for the location where Ten did that growing up. Ten spent his formative years in a Buddhist monastery in Dharamshala, India, where his father expected him to become a monk, just as he was. The fact that Ten was the product of his father’s impulsive middle-age marriage to an American college dropout attempting (and failing) to “find herself” on a trip through India (and Europe) didn’t seem to matter to his father’s plans. Nor did his father understand what role Ten’s mother’s wanderlust, or her influence, might have had in his makeup.
Not to mention, eight-year-old boys are lousy at obeying mindless rules, never mind teenagers. Ten just wasn’t cut out to be a monk. He wanted to be a detective, even if he had no real clue what that meant. But he tried to please his father.
An intervention from a lama when Ten turned 18 sent him to the Buddhist Cultural Center in Los Angeles on an exchange program. From there, his journey took him to a GED program, US Citizenship, and eventually, the LAPD.
But several years after making detective in the police department, Ten is no longer satisfied. He still enjoys police work, what he hates is paperwork, meetings and rules. Most of the same things he disliked in the monastery.
As The First Rule of Ten opens, Ten is wounded while trying to intervene in a domestic disturbance. For Ten, it is the last in a series of signs that tell him it is time to resign from the LAPD and become a private investigator. So he turns in his paperwork and does just that. Ten tells his partner Bill that the incident was a case of his “cosmic alarm clock” telling him it was time for his “job karma” to change. While this wouldn’t work for most people, Bill’s “job karma” is part of the reason that Ten is making the switch. Bill and his wife have recently had twins, and Bill wants to move into an administrative job and off the street. Their partnership is breaking up whether Ten leaves or not.
As a private investigator, Ten’s first case arrives before he has even hung out his “shingle”. A woman comes to his door, looking for the previous owner of his house. She’s not looking to hire him, she just wants Zimmy’s whereabouts, because she’s Zimmy’s first ex-wife. But Zimmy used to be a big rock-and-roller before he got clean and sober and left LA, and Ten doesn’t provide a forwarding address. He can tell the woman is hiding something, maybe a lot of somethings. But when she turns up dead the next morning — and not just dead, but tortured before she died — Ten feels like he owes her for not listening to what was wrong. He didn’t want to get involved, and now he’s involved. He has a case, even if no one is paying.
Ten believes that if he investigates, someone will eventually pay. And someone does, in more ways than one.
And if you’re wondering what the The First Rule of Ten actually is, it’s “Don’t ignore intuitive tickles, lest they reappear as sledgehammers.” Words to live by. Or die by.
Escape Rating A-: I started this one night, and re-surfaced over 100 pages into it. I was amazed at how fast I got sucked into Ten’s world and his point of view. He’s a fascinating character to follow. He retains just enough of his “outsider” perspective to make his perspective and internal voice different from the run-of-the-mill private eye. His choices work for him, but they wouldn’t for another detective. His screw-ups are definitely his own, too.
There’s a teaser for The Second Rule of Ten in the back of the book. I don’t want just a teaser. I want the whole book!