In Birtcher's fourth Mike Travis novel, the Hawaii-based PI, reluctantly answering a cry for help from his brother, finds himself threatened by a Hong Kong sex-trafficking ring.
The unprincipled sibling, Valden Van de Groot, runs the family's powerful finance company in Los Angeles. Though he's married, he was videotaped groping a prostitute in a hotel elevator, and now someone's blackmailing him. The girl, who's only 17, was imprisoned and programmed for eight years by the White Orchids, a sex trade operation with ties to local banks and officials. Travis, a former LAPD cop who dropped his aristocratic last name to distance himself from his wealthy family, intercepts a message from the blackmailers at a political fundraiser. With the help of an old cop friend and a sidekick from Hawaii, he connects the dots leading from one unsavory suspect to the next. Between incidents of violence and the kidnapping of a billionaire pharmaceutical executive's young grandson, Travis has to face up to relationship troubles back home. Birtcher is a solid, fluent writer; the story unfolds with good-humored ease, and Travis is a personable narrator. But though all of the elements are in place for a tense thriller, the book is consistently low-boil. The female victim is drawn rather sketchily, and the bad guys, who mostly operate offstage, aren't especially convincing.
Birtcher's latest is an agreeable but undercooked mystery about the sex trade.