Alo Nudger, the St. Louis ex-cop whose office is just upstairs from Danny’s Donuts, is both the most normal of all fictional private eyes and the most surprising. He’s got an uncertain stomach he doses with nonstop antacids; he doesn’t like guns or violence; and since he doesn’t feel any special affinity for what he does, from nosing into people’s dirty laundry to confronting perps with the consequences of their misdeeds, and makes more than his share of mistakes, it’s only natural that his business cards identify him in “Typographical Error” as a “private defective.” In the rest of these 13 reprints from 1978 to 2000, Nudger (Oops!, 1998, etc.), in the best shamus tradition, rarely begins with a murder case, though most of his investigations lead to murder sooner or later. Instead he tracks missing persons, looks for witnesses who can alibi or exculpate his clients, checks out the credentials of people like the young woman his smitten client’s bus passes each morning in “The Romantics,” tries to figure out why a suicide he’d never seen before blamed his fatal plunge on Nudger in “Before You Leap,” or—in perhaps the best and most characteristic of these stories, “The Thunder of Guilt”—follows a client’s wife whose suspicious behavior is covering something much worse than an affair. It would make sense, in fact, to think of colorless Nudger as everlastingly following equally colorless characters with an endless supply of guilty secrets.
The variety of opening gambits is complemented by Lutz’s trademark prose, flat and fluid as a slithering snake.