An inexperienced detective battles evil politicians, corrupt cops, and ruthless gangsters in this light look at the dark side of sunny California.
There’s adventure ahead in Kelly’s (Winged, 2011) detective novel as she introduces the charming Richard Valentine, a novice detective who’s just clueless enough to encourage readers to solve cases along with him. As the novel opens, he’s working small cases in the greater Los Angeles area. He learned the trade as an apprentice to the formidable Dako Farona, an experienced detective involved in dangerous, hush-hush cases. He tosses smaller fish to Valentine, with his receptionist, Laurel Briley, assisting. A few weeks after setting up his own practice, following an initially disastrous bodyguard gig at a Renaissance faire, Valentine lucks out by receiving a cash reward and rents his own office in a two-story building nicknamed the Gingerbread House. He shares it with a motley crew of LA entrepreneurs, including would-be screenwriters; Moonbeam Fink, a masseuse; a music producer; a talent agent; and hapless actor Lloyd, the building’s receptionist. He’s encouraged by Kitty and Bitsy Sutterman, his elderly landladies, who quickly disabuse him of his prejudices about senior citizens with “all the gentle finesse of Darth Vader chopping off Luke Skywalker’s hand.” They make him see that “growing old may be inevitable, but growing up is a choice.” Kelly tosses in Dako’s feisty, beautiful daughter Rexanne, the seventh-richest 20-year-old in Texas, a beautiful woman named Piper Lang, hints about the past from former cop Victor Ramirez, and assorted corrupt local officials and mobsters to keep Valentine’s head spinning. The wonderfully easy first-person voice seems drawn from the golden age of detective stories (“I creaked along behind her, sweating like an armadillo on a grill”).The author plays fair with the mystery elements, weaving clues into the engaging central story via smoothly blended storylines. Murder, greed, and betrayal remain constants throughout, making this trip through the Hollywood Hills an example of first-rate escapist reading.
Detective fiction that’s packed with genuinely likable characters who join forces in surprising ways.