A regular joe stirs up a whole pot of trouble when he meets a damsel in distress.
Renowned satirist Moore (Secondhand Souls, 2015, etc.) offers up a soft-boiled take on the hard-boiled tradition personified by the likes of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler in this messy, comic mystery that often goes off the rails. The book does offer a fascinating setting in San Francisco circa 1947, a throwback to a city the author clearly knows and loves. Our palooka of a protagonist is Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin, a partially lame grifter who tends bar at Sal’s Saloon between various schemes. Sammy gets more than he bargained for when a spectacular blonde “tasty bit of trouble” named Stilton wanders into his joint. Before you know it, Sammy has the hots for “the Cheese,” a jones that brings him all manner of trouble. The book employs no end of snappy dialogue straight out of a Jimmy Cagney movie, but the device can’t save it from its meandering, distracted plot. In addition to the Cheese, we meet General Remy, a conspiring bureaucrat on leave from Roswell Army Air Field; “The Kid,” a profane rug rat Sammy employs from time to time; Eddie Moo Shoes, Sammy’s entree into Chinatown’s underworld; Lone Jones, a good-natured boxer who insists he’s not black; a dirty cop named Pookie O’Hara; and an assorted mix of gangsters, cabbies, drag queens, and other denizens of San Francisco. Moore’s introduction of an interrupting, semiomniscient second narrator between Sammy’s first-person tale can be jarring, even if it is explained late in the book. The novel finally coalesces in its back half as Sammy invades a shady cabal called the Bohemian Club to rescue the Cheese, pretty much from herself, and they both get a surprise when they run across General Remy’s secret, all while being chased by mysterious “men in black.” What results is a kindred spirit to Richard Brautigan’s Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942 (1977).
A frantically comic tale of guys and dolls that shoots and just misses.