HOUSE OF SMOKE by J.F. Freedman
Kirkus Star

HOUSE OF SMOKE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A gritty and gripping sins-of-the-fathers tale from Freedman (Against the Wind, 1991, etc.), who this time puts a couple of memorably gutsy ladies center stage. Having resigned from the Oakland PD after being involved in a hostage crisis that left three people dead, Kate Blanchard divorces her brutally abusive husband (a fellow cop) and moves to Santa Barbara in search of a fresh start. With wise counsel from a retired investigator whose practice she takes over, the 40ish Kate sets up shop as a p.i. Retained by wealthy young Laura Sparks to probe the apparent suicide of Frank Bascombe, who died in the local jail while awaiting arraignment on drug charges, the fledgling sleuth soon learns she may be out of her depth. In addition to being Laura's lover, Bascombe was foreman at the vast ranch owned by the Sparks family, and the oldmoney clan wants to put a quick lid on his death for fear it could sully their good name. Particularly keen on keeping Kate at bay is Miranda Sparks, Laura's mother. A calculating sexual predator who takes her pleasures where she finds them (thanks to the impotence of a beloved but feckless husband), Miranda has been entrusted by matriarch Dorothy with the stewardship of the family's presumably substantial holdings. But undaunted by pointed warnings and a severe beating, Kate keeps digging. She finally discovers that Miranda is, literally, in bed with the representative of an international oil company that wants to slant-drill into the scenic channel--anathema in environmentally correct Santa Barbara. Kate also identifies other players with sinister agendas of their own. The case she would not drop eventually resolves itself in a shocking, violent, and cathartic climax. Plucky Kate and lusty Miranda are irresistible creations in their absorbing if occasionally melodramatic duel, set in an agreeably complex coastal eden: an immensely entertaining read.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Page count: 410pp
Publisher: Viking