You may have a pretty good guess what the wonks working after hours at 3D printing company 3Make are up to—after all, only a few activities are likely to be Like Printing Money, the name of RA Cramblitt’s new technological crime novel. But, don’t worry, the technology isn’t so dense that it obscures the basic human motivation at work here—greed.
Set in Baltimore, Maryland, the story does evoke the city’s row houses and freeways and the backwoods countryside that’s not really that far away. Baltimore is coming into its own as a location for crime stories, building on the success of author Laura Lippman and the television series, Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire. It’s definitely a city, it has distinct neighborhoods, but it’s not so big as to be fictionally unmanageable—it doesn’t take three hours to drive across town, for example.
An interesting set of characters, Black and white, negotiate Cramblitt’s city streets, and you can be forgiven for not spotting who the star of the show is going to be. At first you may think it’s Bernard Jamal, college hoops player and successful venture capitalist, who’s kidnapped in the first chapter, his long legs folded into the uncomfortable confines of an automobile trunk. In fact, however, the story’s main character is Charlaine Pennington, an investigator in a private detective agency.
Charlaine is working on a case assigned to her by the detective agency owner, Tony Mancuso. It involves 3Make in some way, but she’s received precious little information about what the job entails. She doesn’t like it and objects, and if there’s one thing Charlaine is good at—several things, actually—it’s sticking up for herself. It turns out that Tony himself doesn’t know as much as he’d like to about why the sketchy Russian has hired them.
Something is very wrong at 3Make, and Charlaine and Tony are determined to find out what that is, even before they find the first body. And Jamal may have escaped his captors, but he hasn’t shed his desire to find out who they were and what they were up to. I loved the charming elderly Black man who helps him. Great character!
Cramblitt has a habit of overloading the narrative with back story. He’s good at showing, and I for one could do with a lot less telling. I like to see a novel’s characters in action and figure out their strengths and weaknesses for myself. Like Printing Money is Cramblitt’s first crime novel, though, and he may realize he doesn’t need all that history. The narrative screeches to a stop every time. You can certainly hope there aren’t any technological wizards like 3Make’s Barrett and Chen, working after hours on projects akin to the one exposed in this novel, but the sad truth is, there undoubtedly are. The book gives you fair warning.