A California private eye becomes caught in a web of cartel operations and cop corruption in this 1980s tale.
Like the snake with which he shares his last name, Philip “Dancer” Mamba is accustomed to danger (he even met his wife, Hope, while solving her first husband’s murder). The former cop and newly minted private investigator earned his nickname for his verbal choreography in “circumventing the delivery of unpopular news to a client, or a suspect.” At present, one client, William Anderson, head of Anderson Pharmaceuticals, is anxious for Dancer to identify who broke into his company and stole drugs. But Anderson, aka cartel-connected Guillermo Arcenas, knows the answer. He actually recruited and aided Reed, a mononymous junkie, to commit the crime as part of an elaborate scheme to move in on the drug-trafficking syndicate operated by Anthony Garmel. Wait, there’s more: Reed is also an informant for Dancer, who pressures the addict to write pages of information detailing local drug deals. After Dancer gives the information to police, dealers, an informant, and Dancer’s former partner on the force are attacked, some fatally, indicating there’s not a mere leak within the department, but “more like a tributary.” The flow of Downing’s (Best Friends, 2016, etc.) novel gets clogged with extended back stories; revealing, for example, that when one character was a child, her father died because a lodgepole pine fell on him, and when another was in college, she was a coxswain and seismology major. The trials of yet another character suffering from ovarian cancer and the pleasure shared by two others falling in love also divert attention from the book’s focus. The use of italics for characters’ first-person stream of consciousness in an otherwise third-person story works, but some word choices and expressions do not (“I saw tears leaking”; “Phil likes to stick his finger in the police pie”). A variety of age and ethnic groups are represented, but it’s hard to keep track of all the players without a score card; happily the author obliges with a helpful three-page roster at the end of the tale.
An ambitious, if overly complex, crime story involving drug dealers.