In 1934, in an idyllic farmhouse outside of Kansas City, Duncan and friends discuss the finer points of guns, eat a home-cooked meal made by one man’s wife and then execute a gangster tied up under a tree. Skilled in guns and robbery, they may be hard men, but Duncan and company—including his partners Gordon and Gnennett, late of the Polish military—are in town to solve the murder of an old friend. Unfortunately, though Boss Tom Pendergast may still be nominally in charge of Kansas City, with the recent Kansas City Massacre and the assassination of Pendergast’s underworld lieutenant John Lazia, Kansas City has been thrown into disarray. So when Duncan agrees to help a mysterious Valencian singer named Rachel Hernando with her gangster problems and is suddenly getting shot at on the street, it’s unclear who is gunning for Duncan and why. Bartley confidently continues the Duncan series with classic noir touches—as with Bogart’s turn as Marlowe, Duncan seems to get a lot of information from helpful women—and a poetically crisp delivery: When Rachel demurs from Duncan’s compliment of “tough” by saying that she just hides it well, Duncan notes, “That’s what being tough means.” While Bartley writes an entertaining mystery-thriller, there’s also an interesting underlying theme about the loyalty of men: Pendergast’s world is falling apart because it lacks the loyalty that Duncan and his friends have for each other—the loyalty that drives Duncan to seek his own brand of justice. In order to make this historical world—especially the criminal landscape—clear to the reader, Duncan sometimes delivers informative asides on, for instance, the Kansas City Massacre or the Jacobean revival house they’re holed up in; while these asides are fluidly and usually clearly written, readers may wonder at the breadth of Duncan’s information.
Another strong book about Duncan’s attempts to do the right thing in an uncertain world.