Shakespearean Western, a top-of-the-line melodrama by the author of the High Noon story and worthy to be set beside the best of Louis L'Amour and Richard Clarke. Set in 1911, this is Cunningham's first novel in 30 years--and he's been away too long. The basic plot and some key incidents echo The Maltese Falcon, giving the story a nice warmth, since by now the story of the jewel-encrusted black bird of the Knights Templar can only be called beloved. This time it's a fabulously jewel- encrusted gold monstrance, worth $600,000, stolen from a church altar in Guaymas, Mexico, and being sought for the $60,000 reward that's been offered for its return. Well, why wouldn't Jacko O'Donohue, the L.A. private investigator hired by the marvelously well-spoken but untrustworthy Mexican Counsul Palafox (ah, Caspar Gutman!), just scoot off with the monstrance once he recovers it and sell it abroad for $600 grand? Because Jacko's an honest investigator. But he's saddled with a dumb sidekick, thick-headed, somewhat psychotic Mike Horton, who wants to run off with Jacko's wife May--a bit of backspin on Sam Spade's adultery with Miles Archer's wife Iva. Mike not only plots against Jacko and steals the monstrance but also dumps his own tart-tongued feminist wife Becky on Jacko while taking along May as his brains for getting him through revolution-riddled Mexico to Guaymas. Jacko and Becky follow, with Becky intent on murdering Mike or something close to it. All four find themselves wading through blood in Mexico as rival armies sweep through the night and leave corpses everywhere. That's the story, and the climax is the familiar Falcon/Treasure of the Sierra Madre sendup of human greed. What's great is the pacing, masterful (if at times overrich) dialogue, Cunningham's superb eye and ear for description and cadence, and his thorough rounding out of the main characters. May the gods of Hollywood recycle this and paste its name in the stars.