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Purgatory Chasm (Conway Sax #1)

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  352 Ratings  ·  96 Reviews
“Tander Phigg was an asshole, but he was also a Barnburner. Barnburners saved my life. I help them when I can. No exceptions.”

The job seems simple. Conway Sax, a no-nonsense auto mechanic with a knack for solving difficult problems, has never liked obnoxious blowhard Tander Phigg. But a promise is a promise. Tander's a Barnburner, a member of the unique Alcoholics Anonymou
Hardcover, 292 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Minotaur Books (first published April 28th 2011)
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Scott Rhee
Jun 20, 2013 Scott Rhee rated it really liked it
Making his worthwhile debut in the "private eye" genre, Steve Ulfelder brings to mind the best of classic Robert B. Parker and, going way back, hard-boiled authors like James M. Cain or Jim Thompson. Ulfelder's novel "Purgatory Chasm", besides having one of the coolest titles I have heard in a while, introduces readers to a name that I believe we may hear more of in the future: Conway Sax. Not your typical private eye. In fact, not a private eye at all. He's a big, surly auto mechanic, former ...more
Feb 03, 2012 Jeffrey rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Mystery readers who like characters with a different skill set from typical pi
Shelves: mystery, read-in-2012
Dick Francis made a living for many years drawing detectives from various walks of life other than the typical ex police officer, from the toy store designer, the ex jockeys, the pilot or the accountant.

In Steve Ulfelder’s first novel, the detective turns out to be Conway Sax, a former race car driver, who hit the booze so hard that he now makes his money as an auto mechanic. Sax is the member of the Barnstormers, a hard core alcoholic anoymous group, that took Sax in when he had hit bottom. Sax
Mina MacLeod
Jan 04, 2014 Mina MacLeod rated it really liked it
I picked this up in the bookstore, intending to see if I liked the flow. Despite being written in first-person, I'd breezed through eight pages before deciding it was worth buying. It didn't take long to devour it from there. I've been in a mystery/supernatural mood, so this tantalized my palate. What's refreshing about Conway is that he's just a guy -- a regular man with a knack for solving people's problems and a deep-seated sense of loyalty. He's not a smart-ass, he's not a pop-culture ...more
Sue Wargo
Oct 23, 2013 Sue Wargo rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries, bookgroup
Loved it. Interesting to read something set so close to home. Have been to Purgatory Chasm many times in my life. Author even mentioned Thompson Speedway. Sometimes when the author draws on places and things that are very familiar it can make you be hypercritical. But this is a well done first effort with an atypical sleuth. Plan to have a tissue handy at the end. Looking forward to your next book Mr. Ulfeder.
Goodreads Decriptions- “Tander Phigg was an asshole, but he was also a Barnburner. Barnburners saved my life. I help them when I can. No exceptions.”

The job seems simple. Conway Sax, a no-nonsense auto mechanic with a knack for solving difficult problems, has never liked obnoxious blowhard Tander Phigg. But a promise is a promise. Tander’s a Barnburner, a member of the unique Alcoholics Anonymous group that rescued Conway, and when a Barnburner has a problem, Conway takes care of it. Besides, al
Sep 12, 2011 Beth rated it it was ok
PURGATORY CHASM: A MYSTERY by Steve Ulfelder begins with the narrator, Conway Sax, complaining about Tander Phigg, a person Sax knows through Alcoholics Anonymous, who asked him for a favor. Phigg wants Sax to get Phigg’s car back from a repair shop and his money, $3,500, refunded. It wasn’t a good beginning. But the story gets better soon after when Sax goes to the repair shop.

Something’s fishy about this place, Sax discovers. And when he talks to the owner, Sax gets his head bashed. He does ca
Austin Morgan
Jun 10, 2011 Austin Morgan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Someone looking for a gritty mystery
Shelves: first-reads
Steve Ulfelder’s Purgatory Chasm is a great way to start off a writing career. I get to read a lot of debut novels, frequently before they are published. I feel this gives me more experience in identifying some of the foibles new authors frequently work through in the first books. I didn’t see any of the typical beginner jitters from Steve Ulfelder. Then I googled Steve and found out he is not kicking off a writing career, he has been a journalist for 20 years. Of course converting journalism to ...more
Jul 01, 2011 Hallie rated it really liked it
Massachusetts author Steve Ulfelder sets his debut novel, "Purgatory Chasm,"in suburbs west of Boston. His protagonist is Conway Sax, an expert auto mechanic who once raced for NASCAR but "drank myself out of a ride before I made the big time." In a weak moment, Conway promises to help the blustering Tander Phigg recover his "baby"(a 1980 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9)from a sketchy foreign motors repairs garage where it's been sitting for eighteen months, supposedly awaiting repairs.

Conway thinks P
Jun 01, 2014 Jamie rated it really liked it
[b] Purgatory Chasm [/b] Steve Ulfelder

4 stars

I liked this - eventually. The things that bothered me probably won't matter to normal people lol.

I liked the main guy is a mechanic, the relationships in the book are nicely written, although there does seem to be a lot of characters for what is a fairly short book and the general writing style is engaging. The cars are written like characters - as they should be and most of the car stuff is accurate and to me, funny in the right places:)

I did put
Janet Martin
May 10, 2015 Janet Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although this book had been on my TBR list ever since it showed up as an Edgar nominee for Best First Novel in 2012, it took me way too long to get around to finding a copy. It's another book better in audio due to the terrific narration by Mark Boyett, who does a fine job as the voice of Conway Sax. Sax is a flawed hero--ex alcoholic, prone to violence when provoked, but fiercely loyal, protective, and dependable. Fast paced, with a fine cast of secondary characters, unpredictable and ...more
Sep 16, 2015 Jason rated it it was amazing
A former mechanic and race driver, Conway Sax, takes the reader on the ride of a life in this taut thriller. Hair pin turns of intrigue, from Massachusetts, to New Hampshire, to Vermont and side trips to New York and South Carolina keep the reader guessing as to what happened to Tander and his money. Tautly written and satisfactorily ended, this is a great mystery!
Aug 21, 2015 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-paced action thriller with an unlikely but likable mechanic-turned-sleuth. I appreciate the authentic, gritty dialogue and the rough, gruff lifestyles explored here.
Jun 26, 2011 Bahimiron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not a huge mystery fan, so take this with a grain of salt.

A fantastic debut from a great new talent. Steve Ufelder takes Framingham, MA, a town I mostly know for Shopper's World (Jordan's Furniture is right across the street and listed as being in Natick, what's up people?) and the closest Wal-Mart to Boston, and brings it to life as the hometown of one Conway Sax, former racecar driver, former drunk, former mechanic and currently a guy who helps out members of his local AA chapter, the Barn
Michael Puttre
Feb 20, 2013 Michael Puttre rated it really liked it
This is a spoiler-free review.

Steve Ulfelder's debut novel surprises with its tight, disciplined writing and pitch-perfect dialog. I have not read many (any?) crime-mystery novels, so I was prepared for some over-the-top noir passages, particularly in a freshman outing (think Calvin's 'Tracer Bullet' alter ego). I needn't have worried. Ulfelder offers up rapid-fire descriptions that never stray into caricature.

The title intrigued me because I live and work in the same region of Central Massachu
Patty Blount
Jan 19, 2012 Patty Blount rated it really liked it
Steve Ulfelder’s PURGATORY CHASM is a mystery that grabs you with this opening line: “There are drunken assholes and assholes who are drunks.”

Former NASCAR driver and mechanic Conway Sax is a recovering alcoholic, drug addict, and parolee whose unwavering loyalty to his fellow Barnburners (AA group) – even when they’re assholes who are drunk - sucks him into retrieving a Mercedes from a local garage where it’s been held for months with no explanation.

Yeah, I questioned the wisdom of getting in
Lauren Grimley
Aug 01, 2012 Lauren Grimley rated it it was amazing
As a reader: Well, I've already publicly announced my weak spot for fictional bad boys (Character Crushes, 4/12), so it's no surprise that I fell in love with Conway Sax just about the same time I realized he was trouble. That said, this is not chick lit like much of what I read and review here. Conway Sax is a man's man, and the story, writing style, and characters might actually put the novel in the opposite category (rhymes with chick lit, only crasser). The flawed hero makes for a ...more
Jul 03, 2012 Kathleen rated it really liked it
I was fascinated to learn that Purgatory Chasm is a real place in Massachusetts. Purgatory Chasm the book is a fast-paced mystery novel whose main character, Conway Sax, is a sometime auto mechanic with a past involving alcohol and time in prison. And Conway Sax is a Barnburner, a member of a select group of AA members who will do anything for each other.

Author Steve Ulfelder tells the story in first person, giving us the sense of speed and obsession that pervade the whole novel. We know from t
Darcia Helle
Purgatory Chasm starts off with tremendous promise. The writing is smooth, with lots of well written dialogue that moves the story forward while also giving us a great feel for the characters. Ulfelder's style is quick and uncluttered, immersing us in the story as the suspense builds.

Unfortunately, it all fell apart for me early on. I didn't find the plot or the characters' behavior believable.

Some highlights:

- Conway Sax is street smart, independent, on parole, jobless, and inexplicably gets t
Jul 07, 2011 Janet rated it really liked it
Don’t you hate it when a “friend” you don’t really like asks you for a favor you don’t really want to do? So does former alcoholic, former NASCAR driver and current auto mechanic Conway Sax. But when Tander Phigg asks him to help recover a much loved vintage Mercedes from an unscrupulous auto shop, Conway knows he can’t refuse. Phigg is a founding member of the Barnburners, a group of recovering alcoholics who are the backbone of the Alcoholics Anonymous group who helped Conway sober up and ...more
Apr 22, 2015 Normalene rated it it was amazing
Ulfelder is a new author for me and I love when I find a great one. This first book was published in 2011 and it looks like I have four more to go in the series - oh joy! Conway Sax is a reformed alcoholic, an auto mechanic, a retired Nascar racer and a guy who fixes things for his friends. This first story is about his getting his friend Tander Phigg's car back from a shady mechanic and when Tander ends up dead, Conway feels he still has to complete his task. Conway doesn't have a lot of ...more
Sep 08, 2011 Stephen rated it really liked it
Changed my initial feelings about this book. Originally thought the pace was slower than I liked. However as one gets into the last quarter of the book, the pace quickens and you have to pay attention as the story lines all come together.
Conway Sax , ex-con and ex-alcoholic has his life together. ...a job , a girl friend, Charlene, when things start to happen that connect him to his past. He is friendly to members of his AA group which is call the Barnburners, when a member, Tander Phigg is fou
May 09, 2011 Amandaj rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I got Purgatory Chasm from a first reads giveaway. Conway Sax, a devoted member of an AA group called the Barnburners is determined to find out the mystery behind a fellow members (Tander Phigg) suspicious death. Just before Tander's death, Tander contacts Conway for a favor. Once Tander is dead Conway still keeps his promise to help him, because that is what Barnburners do; they always have each others back no matter the circumstances. Along the way to finding the truth of Tander Phigg's death ...more
Kathleen Hagen
Purgatory Chasm, by Steve Ulfelder, b-plus, Narrated by Mark Boyette, Produced by Audible Inc.., downloaded from

This is a debut mystery in a series about Conway Sas, trained as a mechanic and with a prison record, and, by his own description, a drunk. But he kicks the habit and joins A.A. The group he finally hits upon as perfect for him is called The Barn Burners, and is made up mostly of guys who either have a prison record or have something to hide, but who are all sober. They ha
Dec 30, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it
Great debut mystery! Reviewed for Library Journal.

Conway Sax is a former race car driver who lost everything because of his alcohol addiction. After a stint in jail and a newfound sense of belonging with his Alcoholics Anonymous group, he is finally getting his life back in order. When one of his AA associates asks for his help, he is unable to refuse despite his dislike for the man. What starts off as a simple negotiation evolves into a murder investigation and the unraveling of deadly family s
Feb 12, 2013 Deb rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 30, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it
This is a taut, breathtaking debut featuring recovering alcoholic Conway Sax, a member of an AA group that takes care of its own,in every sense of the word. When Conway agrees to help an old-timer reclaim his car from a questionaable auto shop, this simple favor turns into a nightmare after the old-timer is murdered. Then more murders occur and Conway is knee-deep in it. Mixed up in all the mess is his awkward, touching and at times frustrating reunion with his alcholic father.

Conway has major
Aug 05, 2014 Dale rated it really liked it
I'll tell you one thing- I don't want to hang around the protagonist of this book. Lots of bad mojo for the people he cares about. But he goes through problems like a tank, crushing everything in his path. We've got a very flawed man with a bad past who's trying to be a better person. It's a constant, uphill struggle, and we're absorbed in the effort.

The dialog rings true, and the characters are real. Some are terrible people, mean, and self-destructive, but that makes for a great story of inter
Ray Daniel
May 20, 2011 Ray Daniel rated it it was amazing
When Conway Sax fixes your truck it stays fixed. When he builds a house it stays built. And, when he says he'll get your car back from a disreputable mechanic, by God, he gets that car.

Reminiscent of Spenser and Crash Davis before him, Conway Sax is the kind of man who knows who he is, knows how to do a job right, and does what he say's he'll do. He's the kind of man who has a story to tell, but doesn't need to hear himself talk.

Purgatory Chasm is the perfect book for a guy like Conway Sax, bec
Apr 20, 2012 Zora rated it really liked it
Very good first novel about a recovering alcoholic tough guy trying to figure out what happened to one of his AA friends. Though the blurbs suggest this is hard boiled, it isn't dark and depressing and anti-human as some books that get categorized as hard-boiled. The protagonist, despite his comfort with violence, is a caring guy and the author lets us see goodness in weak characters. I enjoyed reading it very much and found it fast-paced. Only a few hours after finishing it, I started seeing ...more
Jun 23, 2011 Ellen rated it really liked it
Loved this book, especially the opening sentence “There are drunken assholes and assholes who are drunks.” The author, Steve Ulfelder, is the father of my boys' friend and I was skeptical about a "first novel" but was very pleasantly surprised. He came to our book club meeting last night and gave us all the background and how he came up with the idea for the story. A great page turner, and quick read, with good character and plot development along with a couple of side stories. It takes place in ...more
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A former journalist, Steve Ulfelder is now co-owner of Flatout Motorsports, a company that builds and services race cars, and an amateur race driver. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and lives in Massachusetts with his family.

More about Steve Ulfelder...

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