Even Ross Macdonald produced occasional howlers like “prone on her back,” but in this series icebreaker by the creator of Ivan Monk (Bad Night Is Falling, 1998, etc.), a veritable fusillade of solecisms (“looking for an egress into the Apex building” is merely the most egregious) mars the otherwise brilliant debut of Martha Chainey. An ex-Vegas showgirl working as a courier for Mooch Maltazar, Chainey is slick, sharp, and tough. When a $7 mil shipment she’s hauling to Marin for casino tycoon Frankie Degault and his sister Victoria gets heisted in a shootout, she's too savvy to protest their 72-hour find-it-or-die deadline. Instead, she launches into action, flashing a snapshot of the dead shooter to get a line on the two who escaped. Tracking them back to a defunct spa on the Agua Caliente reservation gets Chainey into hot water herself with Vern Sixkiller of the tribal police, who’s investigating the murder of two Calientes sent to Vegas to negotiate with the moguls over casino rights. It also gets her a new lease on life: an ID on the shooters. It’s clear whom to avoid—the shooters, the Degaults, and their pet thug Baker—but less clear whom to trust. Her shifty boss Mooch? Her ex-junkie pal, journalist Rena Solomon? New Age socialite Zora Blanchard? As Chainey closes in, Phillips never loses a moment’s momentum while riffing on politics, diversity, and the Tao of Vegas.
Here’s hoping Phillips buffs up his prose, because Chainey’s too good to give up.