Sidney Blackpool, another divorced, alcoholic Wambaugh homicide detective with the L.A.P.D. whose son Tommy died in a surfing accident a year ago, is plucked from his familiar environs and set down in windy, sand-blasted Mineral Springs, the scratchy underbelly of chi-chi Palm Springs, and promised a very cushy retirement job if he can uncover the likely murderer of multimillionaire Victor Watson's playboy son Jack, who was found burned to a crisp in the desert, with a bullet in his skull. After 17 months of no-leads, the Palm Springs P.D. draws only yawns on the case. But Victor Watson wants to know who his son's killer is. And he is counting on the bond of rage between fathers who have lost sons to push Blackpool to success. As ever in Wambaugh, every plot-turn occurs through a ton of sheer padding, albeit very engaging padding, a kind of relentlessly black-minded absurdism that replaces mere realism and logic. Blackpool's gaily roistering sidekick Otto Stringer thinks his buddy is an anhedonist, someone incurably unfun-loving. Their investigation involves them with the nearby Mineral Springs P.D., an outhouse outfit of nine dumbheads who are Keystone Kop screw-ups of the first water, among them overweight Chief Paco Pedroza, who is a sexist pig with jelly tits and a mustard yellow aloha shirt. These cartoon police clinkers were all hired into the Mineral Springs P.D. by Sergeant Harry Bright, the Chief's confidant and keeper of the secrets arising from their force's sublime ineptitude. But Blackpool and Stringer gradually discover certain irregularities about Harry Bright that cast a dark cloud over the man—who in any event has been in a coma for several months following a stroke and a heart attack. Oddly enough, Harry Bright has also lost a son—and is a drunk. "Well, you know how it is in police work. There's a guy or two at every station. Whiskey face, whiskey voice, whiskey eyes, but they always show up to work on time. Always have a shoeshine and a pressed uniform. Always do a job. That was Sergeant Bright." And therein also lies the essence of the secret of Harry Bright, the grieving alcoholic father who is now the pressed shell of duty and yet—having lost a son—is capable of forgiving and taking in the lost sons of the varied California police departments. Despite his black humor and sometimes out-loud funny moments, Wambaugh winds up with a fairly serious novel, with rich Christian symbolism in Harry Bright. The force of alcohol addiction and the essence of self deception in the disease are brought home strongly.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 1985

ISBN: 0553762877

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.


FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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