A 70-something widow whose trinkets have started to go missing from her Coral Gables home hires an 80-something detective to find out who took them.
“I might not be the best but I am certainly the oldest,” says Harry Lipkin, 87, who’s toiled as a private investigator longer than you’ve been alive. Relocated from Miami to Warmheart, Fla., Harry now works out of his house, but he works just as hard at everything except picking up the slate tiles that have been falling off his roof. So he’s a logical choice for Norma Weinberger when something happens to her house keys and her fan, her pillbox and her jade necklace. The suspects, who might have stepped out of a game of Clue, include her driver, Rufus Davenport; her maid, Maria Lopez; her inscrutable Chinese butler, Mr. Lee; her cook, Amos Moses, an Ethiopian Jew; and her doper/Zen/hipster gardener, Steve. As in the Golden Age stories Fantoni (Mike Dime, 1984, etc.) is sending up, they’re all hiding secrets, but none of the secrets makes it obvious that any of them is the thief. As the stakes mount (a diamond brooch vanishes, followed by the Weinberger love letters, and Harry gets threatened by someone who turns out to be in much greater danger himself), Harry questions witnesses and compiles a list to determine whose motive is most compelling, but his list leads nowhere. Neither does a trap he baits with an emerald necklace. How can Harry vindicate his honorable profession?
The mystery won’t fool anyone who’s read the same books Fantoni has, but Harry’s digressive narration provides a good deal of gentle fun.