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Unlike Jonathan Valin (p. 248), Zochert works far too hard at voicing his version of the tough Chandler/Macdonald philosopher-shamus: narrator Nick Caine, like Lew Archer on an off day, strains for poetry but winds up with self-conscious, banal metaphors--""a rag doll filled with sawdust and broken dreams. . . a dame who talked out of both sides of her heart,"" etc. And Nick's premiere case (he's a very freelance San Francisco sleuth with a tiresomely murky past) is as effortfully contrived as Macdonald at his knottiest: co-ed Margot Fraser is found dead at a Montana national park, having been mauled by bears and shot in the head and somehow made already dead previous to the shooting. Nick investigates Margot's campus life and her past--and, while Margot herself shows up alive (the dead body was a hit-and-run victim used to frame poor Margot), the key figure seems to be Margot's long-lost father, who turns up long-dead and frozen in a glacier; he was put there by a mysterious Mr. Big who's probably also responsible for the many other deaths here--Margot's roommate, Margot's mother. . . . Some nicely ironic dialogues, asides, and portraits along the way--but, for all Zochert's again-evident craft (c.f. his period piece, Murder in the Hellfire Club), the derivative plotting, style, and hero here never take on a genuine character of their own: intelligent but mannered work in an over-familiar vein.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1980
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston