This debut detective novel’s eponymous figure embroils a Los Angeles private investigator in a convoluted case.
Leslie Carworth, the redhead who jump-starts this tale, makes a dramatic entrance into the office of gumshoe Charlie McQuillen. The “tall, lanky redhead” with the “grapefruit-sized breasts” looks to him as if she “could be dangerous in a lot of ways.” Driving home the point, he further reflects: “A girl like this could get a guy into trouble sometimes.” She wants McQuillen to investigate who’s following her, but before she actually hires him, she is grabbed by two men and disappears. From here, she flits in and out of the story as McQuillen follows a trail that leads him to the wealthy Wortts family, whose patriarch is mounting a run for state senator. The body count begins to rise once James Mudd, an Army captain, likewise solicits McQuillen to shadow someone: Leslie Carworth. “Is this a dangerous case you’re on?” McQuillen is asked at one point. “Not so far, but it’s getting a little strange,” he responds. And stranger, once a blackmail plot involving “old man Wortts” is added to the mix. Howington knows the notes of classic noir: McQuillen is a burned-out war veteran with a struggling practice and the requisite ex-wife who’s bleeding him dry financially. But the author is tone deaf to the music of the genre. Suffice to say, if being threatened by goons, Philip Marlowe’s first reaction wouldn’t be “to drop to the ground and plead for mercy.” And Carworth will not make crime fiction devotees forget their favorite femmes fatales. She generates a little smoke, but no fire. In addition, there are puzzling anachronisms. The book’s cover depicts what appears to be a contemporary businesswoman, so it’s a surprise to read that Carworth drives “a new 1949 Cadillac convertible.” But more distracting are the odd digressions that undercut suspenseful scenes, such as one in which McQuillen and the two women in his life are in extreme peril, and he chooses at this tense time to note to himself: “This is a nice little cabin.…I think after I get out of this, I may find me something like it.”
An intriguing title, but a fitful tale of blackmail and murder.