The primary gimmick in this bouncy but labored California mystery debut is its two-toned narration: sour Leo G. Bloodworth, an aging ex-cop turned seedy shamus, tells half the story; the other half, in alternating chapters, is told by Bloodworth's painfully precocious sidekick--14-year-old Serendipity (Sarah) Dahlquist, whose effortfully cute prose often verges on sheer campy shtick. This odd duo teams up when Sarah asks Bloodworth (a tough/tender stereotype) to find her missing dog. Was the pooch spirited away by Sarah's flaky mom, Faith, an over-the-hill flower child from the Sixties? So it seems. (Sarah, fatherless, lives with maternal Grandma--a TV-soap star.) But what's the connection to the murder of Bloodworth's slimy partner, who was recently seen with the now-vanished Faith Dahlquist? And why do Sarah, Grandma, and Bloodworth now all seem to be in danger? Well, to figure it all out, Bloodworth and Sarah set out to find Faith--whose latest beau isa Mexican gangster involved in the nasty California dogfight circuit (an intriguing milieu). The trail is littered with dead people and dead dogs; Sarah saves Bloodworth's life; he rescues her from kidnappers. And there's a final shoot-out with the killers at Rock City--after which all the ragged pieces of the plot (blackmail, banking scams, dogs) are forced together in a groaning jam-up of coincidences, revelations, and contrivances. Partly a precious parody of the Ross Macdonald genre, partly a strained imitation: mildly amusing for a while, then just clumsy in its hard-working mixture of comedy, sentiment, and downbeat mayhem.