It’s 1997. Just as Times Square is getting the Disney treatment, a down-at-heels skip tracer agrees to look for a missing husband.
“I have no illusions left,” Henry Swann says, and it’s true that he certainly works hard at sounding world-weary. Swann doesn’t have an extensive client list, a midtown office or even a PI’s license. What he does have is a nice line of patter (“Some people will do anything for money. I am one of those people”) and an incongruously classy client with a boundless interest in her absent husband, even after he’s turned up dead in a hotel. The client is Sally Janus, and her husband is Harry Janus, an importer/exporter of antiquities who also—as Swann slowly realizes when the case takes him to Los Angeles, Acapulco and Berlin—goes by enough other names to fill a poker table. Debut novelist Salzburg, who roughs out his scenes with amusingly primitive strokes, creates a strikingly self-serious voice and plot for his hero, as if nobody had ever thought of writing a story about a private eye investigating a mystery man, even though key parts of the story will sound familiar to movie fans who’ve seen The Maltese Falcon, Charade or Confidential Report.
“What’s lost is best forgotten,” Swann muses at the outset of his adventures—a motto perhaps more accurate than he knows.