A clown plunges, a lady vanishes, and there’s nothing funny about the connection.
Famously benevolent Sweetie Rose Fairbairn is a power among the rich and famous in Chicago’s high society, until suddenly no one can find her. Before disappearing, she hires Vlodek Elstrom to do some discreet snooping. It’s an assignment that even unflappable Dek thinks of as having an unsettling side. He’s supposed to look into the untimely death of James Stitts, a professional clown with an offbeat specialty. In full clown regalia—red nose, orange hair, baggy pantaloons—Stitts leapt from tall buildings, sustained by a carefully knotted piece of rope. Prior to his valedictory performance, his lifeline was tampered with, sending down one clown. Dek wonders why any of this should be of such particular interest to Sweetie Rose. But a $2,000 retainer applied to a cash-poor situation nearly always trumps skepticism, so he signs on. As his investigation gathers steam and surprises, troublesome complications mount for a client whose murky past becomes prologue to a murderous present. Soon enough all sorts of people are hunting the missing Sweetie Rose, including the police.
Fredrickson (Honestly Dearest, You’re Dead, 2009, etc.) gets two-thirds of it right. The prose is polished and pliant, the slightly idiosyncratic hero entirely sympathetic. Blame a near miss on that pesky, plotting leg of the triad—the story doesn’t grab you.