A victim with no past, and a murder with no leads.
J. Adam Bark is found murdered on the floor of the barbershop in the Lakeshore Towers, the hotel where he worked as a detective. Milwaukee police lieutenant Joe Sonntag, who catches the case, calls the hotel “flossy”—it’s 1948—and Bark, from his Adolphe Menjou moustache to the knife-sharp creases in his pinstriped trousers, fit in perfectly until someone burst in with a shotgun and put a couple of holes in him. The only witness is the barber, Damon Barbara, who confidently identifies the perp: Spencer Tracy. Back to square one (though Tracy’s whereabouts at the time are dutifully checked). All background information on Bark is either false or missing. His suite at the Towers has wall-to-wall glossies of movie stars, but no trace of his personality. By contrast, Bark’s professional modus operandi—crashing into hotel rooms to break up illicit trysts, then blackmailing the busted lovers—provides an avalanche of potential suspects. With his faithful helpmeet Lizbeth as a sounding board, Sonntag slowly assembles the pieces of the puzzle.
Pseudonymous Brand’s debut unfolds in leisurely fashion, with many detours. His noir style effectively combines muscle and cheek, and Sonntag is an appealingly laconic sleuth.