". . . a powerhouse whodunit on a grand scale."– Kirkus Reviews
A search for a wayward daughter in 1927 Paris leads to an investigation into a series of murders in Mears’ (Chasing Dietrich, 2011) latest mystery featuring Pinkerton detective Michael Temple.
Temple has an assignment in Paris that seems like a walk in the park: deliver a father’s letter and bring Anne Johnson home to Ohio. The detective has trouble finding her, but he meets plenty of other people along the way. The novel has a slow, deliberate build, with Temple leisurely hunting in Parisian cafes and having a romance in Luxembourg with Anne’s friend and British doppelganger, Jane. But what appears to be a tour of Europe escalates into a powerhouse whodunit on a grand scale. Temple is framed for murder, roughed up and tossed in jail repeatedly; as soon as he seems cleared of one crime, another body is found. Temple searches for the truth to clear his name in a time of communists, cons and killers. The story’s historical backdrop is richly textured: Temple is a veteran who’d only previously been to Paris during the war; there’s a strong Russian communist presence in the city; and Ernest Hemingway’s missing papers and a letter by Lenin become central to the plot. (The detective even questions Hemingway’s ex-wife, Hadley, who has to explain a Freud reference to him.) The fine-tuned dialogue is a particular highlight, from a rotund writer’s hilarious speech, interspersed with wheezing and throat clearing, to Temple’s comment that he returned home after a night of drinking “early by Paris standards, and drunk by anyone’s standards.” But the book’s most engaging quality is Temple’s adamant refusal to quit; when the police believe they’ve found the solution, all the detective sees are loose ends—which he attacks fervently. In scenes that bookend the novel, an 89-year-old Temple travels to Paris, still wanting answers to questions that are more than half a century old.
A solid historical detective story with a tenacious detective, unanticipated twists and an ample supply of suspects.
In his debut novel, Mears introduces Pinkerton detective Michael Temple, a man sent to Berlin in 1934 with one goal: bring back American film star Sara Potter.
Before he even leaves the airport, Temple is drawn into a web of murder, romance and revenge that leads to the highest echelons of Germany’s emerging Nazi power structure. Paramount hired Temple for a simple mission of retrieval: find the actress Sara Potter and convince her to return to America. Upon his arrival, another emerging starlet is sadistically murdered on the set of the German movie studio UFA, and Temple becomes a suspect. Soon, his every move is watched by the increasingly bold Gestapo; his burgeoning romance with Potter only complicates matters further. Temple’s smartass demeanor bears more than a passing resemblance to Philip Marlowe, although it remains Mears’ distinct creation since his PI is imbued with considerably more warmth than Chandler’s. One of Mears’ major achievements is his thoroughly researched, entirely believable depiction of pre–World War II Germany. His portrayal of the German capital’s streets and neighborhoods, the newspapers of the time, and even Berlin-taxi-driver slang lend the story a credibility that’s lacking in many other period mysteries. An impressive balance of both plot threads—the love story and the political intrigue—propels the story forward. In particular, the tense political climate comes through vividly: Berlin’s citizens are wary of being seen reading the “wrong” newspaper or even discussing politics with lifelong friends. Mears doesn’t shy from portraying well-known personalities, either: Herman Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, the Fuhrer himself, and, as the title suggests, famed screen star Marlene Dietrich all make memorable appearances. Temple is a sympathetic narrator, a vulnerable, even ultimately sentimental detective who wants not only to do his job, but endearingly, to do the right thing. The typos distract a little, and there are perhaps 50 or 60 pages too many, but Mears has created a classic gumshoe novel of the best kind—tough guys and tougher dames, plenty of cocktails, gruesome murder scenes, fast-paced action and whip-smart dialogue. In the tradition of such masters as Chandler and Hammett, it’s all here, covered in a thick patina of cigarette smoke, set to a soundtrack of swing bands and clinking beer steins.
A solid, page-turning throwback to the golden age of detective novels.