A not-quite-porn producer dead in his swimming pool is the come-on for p.i. Lorraine Page's third and most tangled case. The evidence against Harry Nathan's child-wife Cindy is so strong—a history of shouted threats, her prints on the murder gun—that it's no wonder she phones Lorraine to ask for her help. But when Lorraine, that tough ex-cop-turned-alcoholic-turned-supershamus (Cold Blood, 1997, etc.), catches up with Cindy at the Santa Monica Police Department, Harry's widow insists she never called her: it must have been somebody else. That's only the first of many dead-end mysteries in the triple-decker investigation spawned by Harry's death. Harry's initial dirty linen (two ex-wives, kinky pansexual tastes) pales before suggestions of blackmail fueled by his Watergate-sized archive of audio- and videotapes. But beneath this second scummy layer there's still more dirt to dig, since the half-share in an art gallery Harry's passed on to his second wife, Kendall Nathan, is honeycombed with hints of wholesale fraud. Kendall swears she's Harry's victim, not co-conspirator; so does his ashen lawyer, Joel Feinstein; Harry's first wife, sculptress Sonjan Sorenson, smugly points out that she was in the Hamptons when Harry was killed; and Harry's old friend, aging queen Raymond Vallance, says he was out of the loop entirely. But Cindy, at least, is soon off the hook, thanks not to the tireless investigations of Lorraine's current troops (new secretary Rob Decker, marriage-minded new lover LAPD Chief of Detectives Lt. Jake Burton), but to a slight case of murder disguised as suicide, and soon it's open season on the remaining cast members. All this juicy malfeasance would be more compelling if (1) the most interesting characters didn't keep dying off, replaced by pale stand-ins who are much harder to care about; and (2) if La Plante didn't keep alternating danger and romance, action scenes and emotional confessions, promises of happy endings and portentous dramatic irony, in an economy that screams TV movie. Lorraine ends up solving the case while she's in a coma. Even the most cold-hearted readers may well empathize.
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